The rebuilding of the 14th Street Viaduct that allows traffic to access Hoboken from Union City and Jersey City Heights may alter the developmental landscape in a way few could have predicted a decade ago.
Long seen as outdated, the bridge-like structure serves as a conduit for vehicle and pedestrian traffic to and from the top of the Palisades, its base seated at the western edge of 14th Street in the northern portion of the city. It is estimated that the span carries about 20,000 vehicles daily, including trucks, buses, and car traffic.
Constructed in 1908, the 1,460 foot long roadway had been a nightmare after years of running water, extended ice patches, and slow decay.
For decades, county officials contemplated replacing the ailing structure. But only over the last few years has the project taken off. It took the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis, Minn. in 2007 for federal officials to pass legislation authorizing money for upgrades to bridges and other structures. Hudson County received $55 million in federal funds.
Ostensibly designed to improve safety and modernize the roadway, the project may also provide redevelopment opportunities both at the base in Hoboken as well as in the areas in Jersey City Heights and Union City.
Freeholder Junior Maldonado, who previously worked in the county’s planning offices, said the improved connection with Hoboken will have a spillover effect along the eastern slope of the Heights.
“We have already seen development coming along that side, but this will make this even better,” he said.
Signs of development sprouting
One of the arteries that connect to the top of the viaduct runs up to Paterson Plank Road and through the Washington Park area which borders Union City and Jersey City. This is an area that is already showing signs of increased upscale development, as are Ogden Avenue and other streets along the eastern slope.
The other wing of the viaduct rises along the face of the Palisades towards Manhattan Avenue and Mountain Road in Union City.
“This is a positive development for our community,” said Mark Albiez, chief of staff to the mayor’s office.
“There is a significant amount of activity in the area.” – Freeholder Anthony Romano
This area north of 14th Street and West of Park Avenue is seen as the first step towards a possible redevelopment plan.
Public safety and recreation improvements
But some of the most direct benefit to the public will come underneath the structure which prior to this had largely been wasted space.
“This would be an open space for the public,” Melli said. “This would be a park where there might be a green market and a recreational use.”
Plans for such improvements were introduced in late 2010 and included a possible dog run, playground, raised sidewalks, and narrower streets that would promote pedestrian safety.
“There are a number of improvements to increase public safety,” Melli said.
There would be a block of active recreation space and a two block multi-use space that would serve as a site for a number of community events.
One of the public safety improvements would involve closing of South Marginal Street to auto traffic, which was done with another street in the area already.
Because of the historic significance – there are photos of some of the wing streets leading to the span on which horse and carriages are seen – the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office set some parameters for the reconstruction design.
The reconstruction comes at a time when the area is seeing a change of use.
“There are zoning issues,” Melli said. “That area is zoned for industrial.”
But he said any property owner can come before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a change of use.
Other city officials said the general idea for the area will be development of retail or commercial space, with a mix of residential.
One of the projects near the viaduct is being developed by Bijou Properties, which is bringing luxury rentals to an area that was previously made up of manufacturing and warehousing. Other projects for the area include retail and gallery space.
“There is a significant amount of activity in the area,” said Freeholder Anthony Romano.
PSE&G cleans up a contaminated area
One of the projects is being constructed at the foot of the viaduct, Romano said, on a site that once housed the Hoboken Gas Works, and later served as a service station until closed about eight years ago. Remediated recently, the project came under additional scrutiny by the Board of Freeholders last year after that area flooded as a result of Hurricane Sandy. A significant amount the parking was designated below ground. The remediation of the site took place at the same time as the foundation was laid.
Among other projects in the area are projected apartments in loft style development near the viaduct. Another property, the former Henke/Cognis chemical plant near 12th and Adams streets, is currently being remediated by PSE&G for potential development.
Many of the changes surrounding the viaduct are the result of an earlier redevelopment proposal that included parks, affordable housing, parking, and a community pool.
But development in the area appears to have taken a slightly different turn from what was original envisioned, a kind of life of its own, some county officials said, predicting that it will change again as local officials look to enhance and promote quality of life as well as retail and commercial elements in the area.
Union City has a number of possible redevelopment sites at the top of the viaduct, not the least of which is the former Yardley Building. But much of the benefit to Union City residents will be the convenience of travel on the new viaduct, including safer pedestrian access on better walkways. Many people travel down the Yardley Stairs from Union City into Hoboken daily.
Albiez said the viaduct is a vital link in Union City’s transportation network for its residents.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.