New Jersey Transit has stepped in to replace the missing screens on the overhead bridge that leads to the Xchange community in Secaucus, according to spokesperson John Durso.
“In light of potential safety concerns, NJ Transit is taking steps to temporarily repair and replace the walkway screens,” said Durso on Wednesday. “An engineer was dispatched today to take measurements and begin this process. These actions have been communicated to local officials.”
Two weeks ago the Reporter revealed that no government entity would take responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the ‘Red Bridge,’ which residents said was in disrepair and posed a safety risk. The bridge has a safety wall on either side comprised of 8 feet tall by 3 feet wide red metal screens that are mounted on a low concrete parapet. Several of the screen panels are missing.
Last Wednesday, Hudson County engineers were out on the bridge to take measurements of the red screens when NJ Transit engineers arrived on the scene, according to James Kennelly, county spokesperson. He said that the county deferred to NJ Transit to take care of the issue, which he said was “prompted by your reporting.”
“In light of potential safety concerns, NJ Transit is taking steps to temporarily repair and replace the walkway screens.” – John Durso
However, the question of who is responsibile for the bridge remains. Durso said that NJ Transit is continuing to discuss and work with Hudson County related to the ongoing maintenance responsibilities for the bridge.
Main route in and out of Xchange
Xchange residents use the narrow sidewalk on the elevated bridge to exit the area or get to the Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction Station. New County Road (recently renamed Paul Amico Way) runs along the bridge and also serves as a main thoroughfare for drivers and pedestrians coming from other parts of Secaucus to get to Xchange, Laurel Hill County Park, and as of this year, Field Station: Dinosaurs.
The municipality recently allowed for residential parking by the Xchange development, which means even more people are parking in the area and walking across the bridge. People have also been moving to the area this year with the opening of the third building at the Xchange this past spring.
Ownership falls through the gaps
For some time residents have complained about the missing red metal screens, the narrow sidewalk, and the lack of snow shoveling in the winter time which forces them to walk on the street next to traffic.
“This is a life and death thing,” said resident Robert Glover, Jr. “Anyone who thinks they can lean against it can fall over into the train tracks.” He walks across the bridge twice a day during his regular commute.
“If someone slipped in the snow or were tipsy, they would fall over the bridge and die,” said Glover. “These are big gaping holes and it is 40 feet down.”
Years ago Glover reached out to the municipality, the Xchange, and NJ Transit without any success.
After following up on the matter last month, no government entity would claim ownership of the bridge. The municipality said it belonged to the county, which maintains the county road that crosses it. The county said the bridge belonged to NJ Transit, which built it in 2003. NJ Transit said it was not their responsibility. And the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission who oversees zoning in the area said it was not theirs either.
“We are not in receipt of any agreement that New Jersey Transit has maintenance responsibility of the bridge,” said Durso.
County spokesperson Kennelly said draft agreements from 2003 create confusion because one attributes jurisdiction to NJ Transit, and the other gives responsibility to the county. No final agreement has been located.
Kennelly said that the county will take responsibility of the bridge if it is actually supposed to but he said they want to confirm legal responsibility.
Who’ll shovel the snow?
Glover also said that in the winter, when the sidewalk is covered in snow, people have to walk in the street alongside cars and tractor trailers. He said that since he moved to Xchange in 2008, the sidewalk has only been shoveled twice, and that it was done at the behest of the Xchange developer’s old property manager. The sidewalk is 4 feet 9 inches wide.
“We have shoveled it in the past to help the township if they haven’t gotten a chance to shovel it yet,” said Michael Railey, Xchange property manager. He began his work with Xchange seven months ago. He added, “We have a limited staff here and just don’t have the manpower to shovel that sidewalk constantly during a snowstorm.” Railey said that his staff are busy shoveling parking garages, lobby entrances, and walkways on the Xchange property.
According to Town Administrator David Drumeler the municipality is not responsible for shoveling the sidewalk on the Red Bridge.
“Any time I get a complaint about it we call the county and they do take care of it,” said Drumeler. He said that the municipality has applied for a grant from the NJ Department of Transportation to pay for widening the sidewalk.
“We want to make it wider to help improve safety and make it easier to maintain,” noted Drumeler. “Then we can use the snow cat.” That’s the town snow removal vehicle that can be used to shovel during snowstorms once the sidewalk is wider.
Last month NJ Transit said that the sidewalk size of 4 feet 9 inches wide was requested by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and the county during the time of construction because of the tractor trailer traffic. He said the sidewalk cannot be widened because doing so would hamper the ability of “the entity” – whoever that might be – to expand the bridge from two to three lanes.
As far as shoveling, the county said they were responsible, but the level of commitment was not clear.
“If we have shoveled it in the past, it was more of a courtesy,” said Wally Wolfe, county roads and bridges division chief. “Perhaps we have to redefine our obligation.”
He said that when the county plows New County Road, they include the bridge.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.