By Ron Leir
All systems are go for the long awaited upgrade of the Harrison PATH station now that the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York Board of Commissioners voted March 29 to appropriate $256.2 million for the project.
Bill Baroni, the P.A.’s deputy director, told The Observer that the replacement of the existing station, which was built in 1932, should start by January 2013 with completion anticipated by late 2016 or early 2017.
When the project’s done, Baroni said, commuters can expect a “modern, state-of-theart” station with new mechanical and electrical systems that will be outfitted with new stairwell approaches to extended canopied platforms long enough to accommodate 10-car trains for the Newark/World Trade Center run, instead of the current eight – a reflection of the station’s growing popularity with commuters. The new construction will extend to both sides of Frank Rodgers Blvd. South.
Between 2010 and 2011, P.A. PATH logged an increase in average weekday ridership, from 6,409 to 6,965 – an 8.7% spurt. “That’s the highest growth of all 13 stations in the PATH system,” Baroni said.
That increased ridership figures to continue upwards over the next decade with the presence of Red Bull Arena and the start of new residential and commercial construction within Harrison’s waterfront redevelopment district.
P.A. designers have also planned for the installation of an elevator to transport impaired riders. “Right now,” Baroni acknowledged, “people who are disabled can’t take the PATH to Harrison.” But the new station is being designed to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he noted.
And there will be commuter pickup and dropoff points for taxis and buses bound for outlying regions, Baroni said.
There will also be retail space as part of the new station, Baroni said. How much space and what types of operations have yet to be scoped out, he said.
Baroni said the project will generate more than 1,000 “jobyears” that will account for an estimated $72 million in wages over the life of the project.
Commuter service through Harrison won’t be disrupted as the upgrade proceeds in stages, Baroni said.
Breaking down the project cost, the P.A. has allocated $153.8 million for actual construction costs, about $27 million for three acres of land acquisition, subsurface environmental remediation and demolition of existing structures and $5.9 million for professional and advisory services.
Critical to the success of the mission, according to Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough, was the willingness of various Harrison developers to work with the P.A. in conveying pieces of their land or granting easements to the bi-state agency to facilitate the project.
In particular, McDonough credited developer Jeff Melanick of the Heller Group in agreeing to yield some of his land at the likely cost of losing the chance to build 100 units of new housing on the site of the old Hartz Mountain property.
Without that consent, McDonough said, the Harrison PATH funding commitment would likely have faded away indefinitely.
“But Jeff stepped up to the plate,” the mayor said.
And that’s good news for current and future commuters using the station, especially with the Harrison Planning Board actions on March 28 permitting the Advance Co. to build 600 rental apartments in the redevelopment zone on Blocks E and F (bordered by Cape May St., Rodgers Blvd., Pete Higgins Blvd. and Riverbend Drive) and on March 29 allowing the developer of River Park homes on First St. to build 140 new units – the balance owed on the first phase of that project’s development which was originally approved for 313 units.