By Ron Leir
Residents steamed about gridlock from the throngs of out-of-town cars that clog the town on nights when Red Bull Arena is hosting a soccer match: Take a deep breath and count to 3 … or maybe 5.
Three or five years, that is.
It may be that long you’ll have to wait before seeing some relief from those massive traffic tie-ups. But at least that looming relief is no pie in the sky prospect. Uncle Sam has actually put some cash behind that promise.
The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has allocated $2.5 million for a preliminary study of a possible new “full access” Rt. 280 Harrison interchange, meaning that drivers would be able to access the state highway – east or west – from the same road.
Engineers, planners and traffic professionals engaged in the study are hoping that the new infrastructure – which would replace and consolidate the existing highway’s east and west approach ramps – would relieve the Harrison Ave. gridlock.
And, according to John Pavlovich, a consulting engineer on the study project, the new interchange should also eliminate the sideswipes and rear-end collisions confounding motorists traveling eastbound on Rt. 280 coming off the Stickel Bridge into Harrison or drivers negotiating westbound entry ramps onto 280 from Bergen and Second Sts. heading for Rt. 21 or Broad St. in Newark.
If the project is declared ready to proceed and if it gets construction dollars funded, experts figure it will be 2015 – or 2017 – before work even begins.
The public gets an opportunity to see and hear more about the project on Thursday, March 1, from 6 to 9 p.m., in the second floor council chambers at Harrison Town Hall, 318 Harrison Ave.
Planners have labeled the existing 280 access points as “an obstacle to current and future economic redevelopment initiatives.”
So the study is being conducted by the Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA) in cooperation with the Town of Harrison and state Department of Transportation to identify alternative locations to create a single interchange designed to improve safety and mobility for drivers and pedestrians on both the highway and local streets and to improve access to and through the Harrison waterfront redevelopment area along the Passaic River, with limited impact on the community.
“Harrison is alive and well,” declared the HCIA’s Tom Leane, study project manager. “It’s a town that people forgot about for 30 years after its longstanding industries disappeared but now there’s interest in it because of major development taking place. So the question becomes how do you get access in and out of all these great projects that are within PATH range of New York.”
Over the past seven months, planners have suggested three possible locations for the new interchange:
The Eastern Alternative, an approach from the Schuyler Ave. area.
The Western Alternative, a split approach with several ramps off Frank Rodgers Blvd., some as far west as Second St.
The Central Alternative, an approach from between Seventh and Eighth Sts. with a tie-in off Cape May St.
Planners say that while the Eastern route is “very unlikely to affect residential or commercial properties,” it does have several downsides: It would require routing of traffic through or over rail maintenance facilities, would compel traffic movements farther along residential streets to reach 280 from areas north of the highway, wouldn’t improve 280 linkage to Harrison destinations and would result in Newark traffic traveling through more local streets south of 280.
An analysis of the Western option suggests that it would potentially impact only one rail facility but it may require the taking of homes to create a right of way and would cause traffic movements through longer distances on local streets to reach 280 from waterfront redevelopment locations.
The Central route could affect rail lines operated by Amtrak, PATH, NJ Transit, Conrail and historic rail landmarks, could impact some industries along the highway and may require business property acquisition but would provide access to the center of the redevelopment area, more direct access for traffic from Newark to 280 and avoids residential property acquisition.
Additionally, as part of the Central alternative, the town has encouraged planners to consider installing a service road to handle truck traffic between Seventh and Eighth Sts. to Supor Blvd., bypassing Harrison Ave. It could be oneway or two-ways, depending on how much land becomes available for the road.
Some key data is still missing from the study. Pavlovich, of Jacobs Engineering Group, said the study team has asked Harrison to furnish traffic flow projections from ongoing residential, retail and commercial activities on five parcels in the waterfront redevelopment area.
Still, even at this early stage in the proceedings, Harrison Mayor Raymond Mc- Donough says he prefers the Central route because it projects no need for acquiring residential properties “so I won’t have a problem disrupting homeowners.”
McDonough said he’s expecting the Advance Co. to seek Planning Board approval March 29 to develop Parcels E and F along Rodgers Blvd. in the redevelopment zone. Plans call for construction of a fi vestory residential building, each with 296 apartments, on each parcel, with on-site parking for about 300 cars on each parcel.
At the same time, the developer of the River Park apartment complex on First St. is expected to ask the Planning Board to permit him to build an additional 140 apartments on the site.