Advocates Want Bike/Ped Path as Part of Portal Bridge Project

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Last month, the Obama administration announced a whopping $8 billion in federal stimulus money that is going to 31 states to build and plan for high speed rail. As part of that, New Jersey has been tapped to receive $38.5 million for the reconstruction the Portal Bridge, a century-old structure that takes Amtrak and NJ Transit trains over the Hackensack River in Hudson County.

Construction on two new bridges is expected to commence sometime late next year, and last for nearly six years. The estimated cost of the project, which will help increase capacity on the Northeast Corridor line, is more than $1 billion.

As part of the plan, Hudson County has filed a request with the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Green Acres Program, proposing to cede 2.56 acres of land in Laurel Hill Park to the project. Bicycle advocates see this as an opportunity to get a new bicycle and pedestrian path over the Hackensack. They point to a state law that says NJ Transit has to give land back to the county, by either doubling the total acreage taken, doubling the dollar value of the land taken, or a combination of the two. And they are calling on their supporters to put pressure on the county to push for a path.

“We just want biking and walking access,” says Michael Oliva of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, which aims to create a nearly 3,000-mile bicycle and pedestrian route from Maine to Florida. He says that there is currently no access being offered on the Portal Bridge project, and when his group has pushed it, they’ve met resistance from officials, who mostly cite safety and national security concerns.

Specifically, the Greenway group wants 2 miles of 20-foot wide trail to take the greenway off-road from the Belleville Turnpike in Kearny to West Side Avenue in Jersey City, near the Hudson Generating Station (see the green line in the map at the top of this story).

Advocates has long seen this area of Hudson County as one of the more difficult segments to figure out, with its heavily-trafficked roads, numerous bodies of water, heavy industry and rail lines. Currently, you can cross the Hackensack on bike or on foot via the Route 7/Wittpenn Bridge, but it can be a harrowing experience. That bridge is also being replaced, and the state Department of Transportation says the new bridge will accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic. But the exact plans are still being hammered out, with the proposed bicycle lane currently consisting only of an 8-foot shoulder on the roadway, right next to the proposed vehicle traffic, according to Oliva.

“There is a lot of progress to be made on that bridge still,” he says of the Wittpenn. Moreover, Oliva rightly points out, even if there is dedicated access on the bridge, it’s not exactly easy getting to the bridge. “[That's] an even bigger concern.”

Getting back to the Portal Bridge, Oliva says the “potential is incredible” for a path which could serve as a key part of a pathway linking New Jersey’s two largest cities, Newark and Jersey City. He adds that the path would serve as a complement the continued revitalization of the Hackensack Riverfront in Jersey City, where the Marion Greenway Park is slated to transform a former toxic site that sits in the shadow of the Pulaski Skyway into a 30-plus acre park.

Oliva and the Greenway advocates are calling on supporters to attend a public hearing on Hudson County’s land transfer this Wednesday, from 6 to 8:30 pm, at the Secaucus Public Library (1379 Paterson Plank Rd.).

If you are unable to attend the meeting, you can submit written comments until Feb. 24. You can mail them to Laurie Cotter, deputy county administrator, 567 Pavonia Ave., Jersey City, NJ 07305. The county asks that you send a copy of your comments to the DEP as well — New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Green Acres Program, Bureau of Legal Services and Stewardship, P.O. Box 412, Trenton, NJ 08625-0412.

Jon Whiten

co-founder of the Jersey City Independent; he now works for a public-policy nonprofit in Trenton.

  • edgertor

    is there an address to email comments to as well?

  • http://www.jerseycityindependent.com Jon Whiten

    edgertor –

    The legal notice announcing the public comment period only has the snail mail addresses, so I’m not sure they are accepting emailed comments on this one.

  • Walker

    Contact the NJ TPA, Transportation Planning Authority and let them know you want the walk way.

  • David

    When elected officials cite ‘public safety and national security concerns’, that’s code for ‘we don’t want just anybody able to walk or cycle through our neighborhoods’. It’s code for racism, classism, and anti-urbanism. It’s code for inhibiting the free movement of the American people through their cities and towns. It’s also code for “anything Big Oil and Big Auto want, Big Oil and Big Auto get”.

    Let’s face it. Since 9/11, the American people have been repeatedly told that they’re living in a dangerous world and they are always under threat. Now, our elected officials are able to cite ‘national security’ as a reason for not building a path for pedestrians and cycles on a new bridge in New Jersey. May I recommend that we all take the names of every single politician who is out there citing ‘national security’ as a grounds for not making the new bridge pedestrian accessible and bike friendly? Then, as their constituents, we demand that they

    1. stop imposing their irrational, fear-based thinking on us
    2. take a walk to the center of the GWB, or any one of the fine East River spans
    3. spend 30 minutes contemplating the thousands of walkers and bikers sharing space harmoniously not just with cars but with subways
    4. return to their offices after a lunch break
    5. take a sip of coffee and maybe have a shower
    6. go to their offices and MAKE IT LAW THAT PEDESTRIANS AND CYCLISTS be able to share the new bridge not only with cars, but with and EXTENSION OF THE HUDSON BERGEN LIGHT RAIL to NEWARK, where it will connect seamlessly to the NEWARK SUBWAY, NEWARK AIRPORT and ELIZABETH and a vast new system of public bike lanes and bike sharing stations serving Metro-Newark, Metro-Jersey City and Metro-Elizabeth.

    Any politician seen to be anti-urban and in the pocket of Big Oil and Big Auto will be voted OUT of office and sent to the Gulf Coast to assist in the clean up there.

    ENOUGH. No New Jersey politician will be off-limits until the chokehold of Big Oil and Big Auto is shattered. We the people will teach our politicians one-by-one who is in charge. National Security is top priority to every American and nobody has to be sent overseas to die so that an ordinary American can walk over a bridge or take public transport to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’.

    VOTERS OF NEW JERSEY: Expose all those elected officials who would impede progress on this issue and every single other quality of life issue. We didn’t ask for a car-centric paradigm 70 years ago – it was imposed upon us by Standard Oil, GM and Firestone Tire. As the oil now laps at our shores from Texas to Florida, and 6,000 American men and women have sacrificed their lives for Big Oil, WE THE PEOPLE have to re-educate our elected officials as to what constitutes a true ‘National Security Threat’. Forbidding the public from being able to walk and bike over bridges is as good a place to start as any.