By Ron Leir
The Rt. 7/Belleville Turnpike corridor which runs through Kearny’s meadows area and beyond is getting a lot of attention these days from state and federal transit agencies.
For the past couple of years, contractors hired by the state Department of Transportation have been doing patchwork repairs on the Wittpenn Bridge which carries Rt. 7 traffic over the Hackensack River between Jersey City and Kearny while, simultaneously, building a replacement span, just north of the existing bridge.
Now, with part of the new bridge decking having been laid out on the Jersey City side of the river and utility work expected to start shortly on the Kearny side, DOT is beginning to address some infrastructure deficiencies of the well-worn highway within Kearny.
Last week, DOT agents met with the Sellers St. Business Association, which represents the interests of some 30 commercial and industrial firms for which Rt. 7 is a vital artery for moving trucks and supplies in and out.
Kearny Urban Enterprise Zone Director/Tax Assessor John Peneda, who sat in on the meeting, said – and DOT spokesman Joe Dee confirmed – that the state representatives sketched plans for the reconstruction of the Rt. 7 “bridge” (more like a big hump) that crosses Conrail tracks.
Peneda said the bridge – located between the east and west spurs of the New Jersey Turnpike – is 85 years old and its superstructure is deteriorating so the U.S. Department of Transportation is providing funding to restore it. Cost estimates weren’t readily available at press time.
“They plan to start the job by late fall 2014 and do most of the work during the overnight hours,” Peneda said.
Under one planning scenario, if one lane could be kept open to vehicular traffic during the work, the job may take an estimated two and a half years to complete, but under a scenario where the bridge remains closed to all traffic while work proceeds – and traffic is detoured via alternate roads – “they could cut four to six months” from the work schedule, according to Peneda.
Initially, the state DOT had proposed doing the work seven days a week, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. but the local businesses suggested a better alternative would be from 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. to better accommodate timing of deliveries, Peneda said.
Ultimately, when the job is done, the shape of the bridge would be the same, in terms of the elevation grades up and down, largely because Conrail wants to preserve its right to be able to run trains along its currently inactive track below the bridge, according to Peneda.
Also on the DOT work calendar is what spokesman Dee described as a “future drainage improvement project” to raise the elevation of a big chunk of Rt. 7 in Kearny “to the west of the Wittpenn Bridge.”
When exactly that would happen isn’t yet clear but it can’t come soon enough for business owners like Spectra Colors owner Luis Marrero, who is also head of the Sellers St. Business Association.
“It’s a plan to keep some water from coming to our end of the Pike,” Marrero said, “by elevating some two miles of the road, starting by the [Route 7 Grille] diner and going across to [Rt.] 280. They also plan to put some pumps by the [Amtrak] train overpass.”
Although the installation of storm drains along Sellers St. has helped, Marrero said that, of late, flooding from heavy rainstorms “has been getting worse. The meadows are getting full so there’s less space for the water to go and it drains onto the Pike. If there’s a combination of rain and high tide, my office sometimes gets an inch of water. This year alone, three or four times we had to squeegee out the water.”
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, Marrero said his business absorbed three feet of water. “We lost all our computers, phones, furniture,” he recalled.
And in the industrial park encompassing the Sellers St. businesses, one company, New Spring, which made plastic food containers for eateries, moved out after taking $10 million in property damages, according to Marrero.
“The water table remains high here and another Sandy will wipe us out,” he predicted.