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Former Marist High School eyed by NJTA as part of new Newark Bay Bridge project

The former Marist High School property is being eyed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority as part of a major bridge infrastructure overhaul. Photos by Daniel Israel

Currently, the existing Newark Bay Bridge, formally known as the Vincent R. Casciano Bridge, is undergoing construction by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA). The bridge deck is being replaced between Interchanges 14 in Newark and 14A in Bayonne, in addition to a median barrier replacement, other structural repairs, and drainage and lighting improvements.

The revitalization of the essential part of the roadway will continue under a separate project which is currently still in the planning stages. The NJTA is seeking to reconstruct and widen the Newark Bay-Hudson County Extension (NB-HCE) from Turnpike Interchange 14 in Newark to Jersey Avenue in Jersey City.

Part of that includes the construction of a new Newark Bay Bridge, which would require the acquisition of the former Marist High School property.

Massive infrastructure project

The 8.1-mile-long NB-HCE was constructed in 1956 with two travel lanes in each direction. The corridor serves the Newark Liberty International Airport, New York City via the Holland Tunnel, and provides access to Bayonne, Jersey City, and Hoboken, as well as Liberty State Park and Liberty Science Center.

Due to the high use, significant congestion and delays have been a daily occurrence along the NB-HCE. Traffic growth and substantial port-related heavy vehicle and truck activity have degraded operating conditions in the corridor and have contributed to the current poor physical conditions of the NB-HCE’s roadway pavement and bridges.

According to the NJTA, approximately 80 percent of the corridor roadway is carried on bridge structures, which are nearing the end of their design service lives.

The Authority’s NB-HCE Program aims to address the old bridges and is comprised of four projects. Each can be implemented separately, and will be prioritized based on specific project area conditions, according to the NJTA.

The first part of the improvement plan calls for the replacement of bridges and widening of the roadway to provide three lanes and standard shoulders in each direction from Interchange 14 to 14A. Known as Project 1, the plans also call for the construction of a new Newark Bay Bridge over the body of water.

The Newark Bay Bridge in Project 1 is over the Newark Bay Main Navigational Channel North Reach, so Federal Agency oversight and approval will be required to replace the bridge. The project will also need to acquire some property in Bayonne for storm water management and other needs.

Acquiring the former Marist High School?

At its Dec. 21 meeting, the NJTA Board of Commissioners approved a recommendation to deem certain property necessary for the NB-HCE Program and authorization to take the steps to acquire the property, which include the three lots that make up the former Marist High School.

According to a letter by the NJTA’s Acting Director of Law Ann Christine Monica heard by the board in December: “This property will be utilized to address storm water management requirements and to provide for the relocation of a connector road. Based on the current design, this property is the first of at least 60 properties that are necessary for the Program. To that end, the Law Department will have to obtain both title work and an appraisal in order to begin the acquisition process. As additional properties become identified as necessary for the Program, further authorization will be requested for the acquisition of such properties.”

The authorization allows the NJTA’s Law Department to enter into negotiations to acquire the property interests. If the negotiations reach an impasse, the Executive Director of the NJTA is authorized to commence eminent domain proceedings, including depositing the appraised value into court and filing a Declaration of Taking.

According to Monica, the final purchase price will be submitted for approval to the NJTA Commissioners in a separate agenda item.

NJTA spokesperson Tom Feeney told the Bayonne Community News: “It basically recognizes that the property is necessary to accomplish the plans that they have there and that they plan to acquire it.”

It is unclear how this will affect the current redevelopment plan for the property, which was approved by the Bayonne Planning Board in December and offers residential and industrial options. The re-developer assigned to the property, Peninsula Court, LLC, a subsidiary of the Alessi Organization, has not yet submitted final site plans for the board. Prior to the reassignment of the re-developer, the city in conjunction with the school district was looking to purchase the property for educational uses.

The Newark Bay Bridge as seen from Stephen Gregg Park.

Plans in preliminary phases

Project 2 would involve the of replacement bridges and widening the roadway to three lanes and standard shoulders in each direction from the Interchange 14A to in between 14B and 14C. Project 3 calls for the same from that area between 14B and 14C until the Columbus Drive Exit. Project 4 includes replacing the viaduct structure to maintain the current configuration of two lanes in each direction but providing standard shoulders from the Columbus Drive Exit to Jersey Avenue.

Environmental studies and preliminary engineering began in February 2021 and are expected to take two years to complete. Final design will then begin, with Projects 1 and 4 prioritized. When the projects move into construction, the number of existing travel lanes will be maintained until new bridges and roadway sections are built and traffic is shifted onto the new facilities.

According to the NJTA, close coordination with municipalities will continue throughout construction. The entire project duration is anticipated to last from 10 to 15 years. The NB-HCE Program design and construction costs are approximately $4.7 billion in total and are included in the NJTA’s Capital Improvement Program.

The renovations to the entire NB-HCE corridor will be subject to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection approvals. And the last chance for the public to comment on one portion of the process for the state project is approaching.

Members of the public have until Jan. 7 to submit comment to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regarding a certain permit for the project. Statements can be sent in by mail only, addressed to the Division of Land Resource Protection at P.O. Box 420, Code 501-02A, Trenton, New Jersey, 08625.

More opportunities for public comment

However, that is just for that particular permit, relating to the new bridge span that would cross the Newark Bay. According to Feeney, the public will have a chance to give their input on this project as it progresses.

“This is still in the fairly early stages of design,” Feeney said. “There’s sort of a general concept of what the plan is, but the engineers are still actually designing it. I think we’re a ways off before anybody is going to be able to look at the whole project.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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