The missing link to downtown
Community groups and the city hope for Jersey Avenue footbridge repair this summer
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Feb 03, 2013 | 6337 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Months after the footbridge collapsed into the Hudson River, it still rests in the waters where it fell. The area is fenced off to prevent pedestrians from accessing the broken bridge.
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Jersey City officials have vowed to repair the old but functional footbridge at the end of Jersey Avenue after several downtown neighborhood associations called on the city recently to make its restoration a priority.

Until it collapsed into the Mill Creek Basin during Hurricane Sandy last fall, the bridge, located about two blocks past Jersey City Medical Center, allowed easy access from downtown to Liberty State Park, including Liberty Science Center. The route was often used by cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians as a convenient path to Liberty State Park. Since the destruction of the bridge, thousands of downtown park visitors have had to take the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail or drive, and people who live in Lafayette have lost quick access to downtown.

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Preliminary estimates given to the city indicate that it may cost about $750,000 to build a new footbridge

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“When the hurricane was over and the bridge was gone, we knew it was not going to be an easy fix,” said Tony Sandkamp, a member of the Van Vorst Park Association, who drafted a letter to the city two weeks ago requesting that the city expedite the rebuilding of the footbridge. The letter was signed by 17 neighborhood groups in Ward E and Ward F, the two sections of the city that had been linked by the bridge. “Many of the advocates felt this was something we had to get on top of right away or it could be many, many years before it was repaired.”

‘A critical link’ between two neighborhoods

Residents who have never ventured beyond Gull’s Cove, Zeppelin Hall, or Jersey City Medical Center may not have even known the footbridge existed. But for residents who get much of their exercise outdoors, the bridge was invaluable.

Originally the site of a railroad trestle that, according to Sandkamp, “went into disrepair,” the footbridge was never the most sophisticated structure. But residents say it served an important function.

“That bridge was critical access for people from downtown to Liberty State Park. And most people who go into the park [from] downtown go on foot or on bicycle,” said Sandkamp, who said he often bikes into the park with his wife, Marlene Sandkamp, president of the Van Vorst Park Association. “And for people of Lafayette, it’s a critical connection and a shortcut to the downtown area.”

Some boat owners who dock their vessels in Liberty Marina also use the bridge to access their boats.

“That bridge was great ‘cause it was so convenient. It was especially convenient if you don’t have a car. I could be downtown in no time,” said Lafayette resident Barbara Fuller who lives near Liberty State Park. “Usually, I’d ride my bike, but sometimes I’d just walk it and it was great. Now, it’s kind of pain because I have to either take the light rail or, if I take my bike, I have to go all the way around to get downtown.”

“Oh, that’s a problem,” said downtown resident and biker Lindsey Becker, when told the footbridge still had not been repaired. “I knew it was destroyed in the hurricane. I really don’t use it much in the winter ‘cause I don’t use my bike that much. But by March and April I’m out pretty regularly. So, having it out of commission will be a problem for me, really, in just a few weeks.”

Several Lafayette residents said the footbridge route allowed them to run errands and socialize downtown without having to trek across the city.

“I go to the Brownstone Diner and Zeppelin Hall all the time. If I bike it I can be there a lot faster than if I take the light rail,” said Jordan Miller, who lives in Lafayette but spends most weekends downtown.

Two Hudson-Bergen Light Rail trains stop at Liberty Science Center and also make stops at several other downtown locations, including a stop on Jersey Avenue.

Bridging the gap by summer?

The preliminary estimate on the cost to rebuild the footbridge is $750,000, according to Rosemary McFadden, chief of staff to Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy.

Money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will cover 75 percent of the repair and rebuilding costs, McFadden said. The city is lobbying to see if infrastructural repairs related to hurricane damage can be reimbursed at 100 percent. Should this effort be unsuccessful, the city will have to pay for the remaining 25 percent of rebuilding costs.

“We are reviewing our capital account and looking to see if there are grants or other private sources of funding available,” McFadden said.

The repaired bridge will be in the same footprint as the old one and will be rebuilt on concrete pilings.

The Clifton engineering firm T&M Associates is currently working with the city’s engineering department on a design for the new bridge.

At present, the hope is to put the contract to build the bridge up for bids next month. For now, the best case scenario for completion is Memorial Day or early summer, although that date could get pushed back due to required environmental testing and other factors.

There are additional plans in the works to build a vehicular bridge from downtown into Liberty State Park. These plans, which may be years away from becoming a reality, have been controversial because the Friends of Liberty State Park and others want to limit the amount of vehicular traffic into the park. When the hurricane destroyed the old footbridge, some residents wondered whether the city might take this opportunity to build both bridges at the same time.

However, McFadden insists this will not be the case.

“The bridge will be in the same location as the former one, since doing so expedites the FEMA approval process,” McFadden said. “The new bridge will be a footbridge made of prefab material. There will be enhanced lighting, signage, and other new safety provisions.”

The rebuilt footbridge will be separate from the vehicular bridge, although the two will likely abut one another.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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elvisroberts
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February 04, 2013
glad to see this missing link finally getting some attention!