PATH TO THE FUTURE: New transport hub dedicated to memory of late former Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough

HARRISON — It began seven years ago with much ballyhoo, lurched off-track a bit and has now chugged to the mid-way point.

Tuesday, Oct. 30, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey marked the first stage of a $256 million upgrade of the Harrison PATH station with the opening of a gleaming new 8,400 square-foot “westbound head house” to handle part of the ever-growing volume of traffic on the Newark-World Trade Center line.

The P.A. also unveiled a plaque paying tribute to the-late Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough for his dogged pursuit of improvements to the aging rail facility which, he reasoned, would be key to a successful revival of the town’s then-dormant waterfront.

Connie McDonough was on hand for the honor to her late spouse.

P.A. board chairman Kevin O’Toole recalled that McDonough, who died in 2014, “had a vision for this place which not a lot of us shared — not a lot of people believed in investing in a place like Harrison.  But he understood.”

And “this new station would not be here,” O’Toole asserted, were it not for the former mayor’s persistence.

Other speakers, including U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th), Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and current Harrison Mayor James Fife, all hailed McDonough’s drive toward the goal of improving the town’s rail prospects.

Sires credited the “tag team” of McDonough and the late Peter Higgins III, former town councilman and redevelopment agency chairman, with pushing the PATH agenda. “Ray would call and Peter would follow up,” the congressman said.

Both Sires and Fife also credited former Gov. Chris Christie for supporting the rail improvement project. Although they were on opposite sides politically, Sires said, “they were working together for the people’s benefit. I wish I could bring that [spirit of cooperation] to Washington, D.C., where nobody’s listening to each other.”

DeGise recalled calling McDonough after learning the mayor had just endorsed Christie’s re-election bid. “I asked Ray, ‘Whatya doin’?’, and he told me, ‘I’m getting myself a brand new [PATH] station.’’’ DeGise said he tried to reason with him, “but [McDonough] said he didn’t want to be talked out of it.”

And so, the result of all that, said Fife, is that Harrison has sprouted a new “ring of development” and the new PATH station “is the diamond in that ring.”

Still to come: completion of work on the “eastbound head house” which, according to the P.A., is projected for the second quarter of 2019; and renovation of the two existing station buildings dating from the 1930s to facilitate greater access to trains for commuters.

The new, glass-enclosed westbound facility features an elevator designed to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by handling impaired passengers — a feature that the Harrison station has never provided, until now.

It also contains stairwells and an escalator for travelers to access upstairs train platforms, new turnstiles, vending machines to purchase both PATH tickets and MetroCards, automatic electronic doors opening onto train platforms and electronic “countdown clocks” informing riders when the next train is due to arrive.

Since the P.A. started the Harrison station upgrade, “ridership moving through the Harrison PATH station has increased by over half a million riders — growing from 2,063,614 in 2012 to 2,588,267 in 2017,” according to a bi-state agency fact sheet.

Much of that upswing in commuter traffic is believed to have been triggered by the several thousand new apartments that have been built in recent years in Harrison’s waterfront redevelopment area, with more to come.

Although the new platforms are long enough to accommodate 10-car trains — PATH currently deploys eight-car trains — P.A. spokesman Scott Ladd said not all PATH stations can handle that load. He mentioned Grove Street as a prime example where limited expansion space is an issue.

So, for now, eight-car trains will continue to run through Harrison, he said. Adapting to the longer trains “is part of an overall plan to get higher capacity,” he said.

There won’t be any restrooms at either of the Harrison stops because the P.A. says Harrison is not considered a “transit hub.” Some retail space is being provided.

In neighboring Kearny, meanwhile, Mayor Alberto Santos — who was on hand for last week’s ceremony in Harrison — said his town is engaged in “long-range planning to increase our mass transit options in terms of bus routes.”

Prospects for revived rail connections appear dim, he said.

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