By Ron Leir
Gov. Chris Christie made it official. Last Friday, welcomed by cheers from a partisan crowd, the governor came to Harrison to declare that the long-awaited $256 million upgrade of the Harrison PATH station has begun.
That was music to the ears of Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough, local developers and organized labor, all of whom attended the gubernatorial announcement, held on the east side of Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. South where the new station will rise.
McDonough called the commuter rail project “the cornerstone” of the town’s $1 billion makeover of its waterfront redevelopment area and insisted that the overhaul of the existing 77-year-old station “wouldn’t have happened without Gov. Christie.”
Earlier this year, McDonough, a longtime Democrat, said he was supporting the GOP governor’s bid for re-election. “When would you think a Republican governor would be endorsed by a Hudson County Democrat?” McDonough mused on Friday.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which owns and operates the station (a stop on the WTC-Newark line), completed land acquisition and awarded a construction management contract for the job to Halmar International LLC of Nanuet, N.Y., back in January and, according to P.A. spokesman Ron Marsico, site preparation work has been under way since June.
“They’ve been driving test pilings for the new station,” Marsico said.
McDonough had hoped to have Christie in town in March for a ceremonial groundbreaking but the governor’s hectic schedule – including out-of-state election campaign fund-raising stops – prevented that from happening until now.
Halmar has been contracted for a $50 million design/build of the elevated Manhattanto- Queen ramp on the RFK Bridge and for a $10.5 million emergency track repair on Metro-North’s Port Jervis line.
In his public remarks, Christie told McDonough he didn’t forget about Harrison because the governor’s dad kept nudging him about the need for the project. “He waited for the PATH train to go to work in New York and he’d keep telling me, ‘You need to get this done,’ ’’ Christie said. “So you had my 80-year-old father as your favorite lobbyist.”
And, Christie said, it made lots of sense to get it done since “residents of 12 New Jersey counties use this station” enroute to jobs in Newark and New York. And, with the Red Bull Arena in place and the pace of area development picking up, PATH ridership is projected “to grow 75% over the next decade,” he said.
Part of the station’s reconstruction will include longer platforms, accessible via elevators, to accommodate 10-car trains instead of the current eight-car limit. In 2012, the P.A. said the Harrison station logged an 8.7% ridership jump – the highest weekday growth among the bi-state system’s 13 stations.
Christie said the Harrison project will generate up to 470 construction jobs accounting for a $42 million payroll which, he added, will pump $344 million into the area’s economy.
The governor said his administration would continue its commitment to improve infrastructure in the region and cited the “urban transit hub” proposal that would provide tax credits to developers who build near rail facilities – now being explored by state lawmakers – as one strategy supportive of that goal.
“We remain committed to renewed development and growth in our state’s cities for as long as I get the privilege of being governor,” Christie told the crowd Friday. And, Christie added, he’ll work hard “to make sure New Jersey gets its fair share of Port Authority capital funding.” As examples of that commitment, he mentioned the partial re-build of the Pulaski Skyway, raising of the Bayonne Bridge and improvements to the Lincoln Tunnel helix, Goethals Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing.
Among the spectators hailing the governor at Friday’s ceremony were 25-year PATH conductors Anita Aguilar and Pat Smith, United Transport Union Local 1413 chair, both Jersey City residents. “This is long overdue,” said Aguilar, “especially after the [Red Bull] stadium opening. Our ridership is up 10 times since they opened the stadium. And, because of the Prudential Center in Newark, people park here and take the train over.”
Their boss, PATH Director/GM Stephen Kingsberry added: “When the World Trade Center construction is finished, we expect a lot more people going there [via PATH] as a destination of interest.”
Marsico said the P.A.”hopes to have the first part of the new station open by 2015 or 2016 and the entire station done between 2017 and 2019.”