The 14th Street Viaduct, which links Hoboken to Union City and Jersey City Heights, debuted in 1908 – the same year as the Model T Ford. At the time, it linked Hoboken to West Hoboken, the forerunner of Union City, by climbing up the Palisade hills.
In recent years, it became structurally unsound. But thanks to a $54 million renovation completed Monday, residents may be able to enjoy it for another hundred years.
According to Hudson County Engineer Demetrio Arencibia, the original structure was designed before the demands of automobiles were fully understood, and as a result could only support two lanes of traffic under current standards. After years of damage from weather and trucks, it was functionally obsolete.
The new four-lane, 1177-foot long viaduct that fully opened Monday has been at least 10 years in the making. Scoping began in 2003, followed by construction in August 2011. The sides of the roadway were replaced one at a time, allowing traffic to flow in both directions—albeit sometimes slowly—on the other side.
“The improvements underneath the viaduct are just as important as those on the bridge.” – Dawn Zimmer
Projecting over the din of road striping machines finishing the last stages of the viaduct on Monday, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said the new structure was a great improvement to her city’s infrastructure.
“Not only is it important to our economy and to the important connections between our communities…but it’s built in a way where bicyclists and pedestrians can also safely cross,” she said.
The viaduct does not have a designated bike lane, but there is a sidewalk and a small shoulder on the southern side of the roadway.
Zimmer was joined by U.S. senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker (D-NJ), U.S. Representative Albio Sires (D-13), Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and county freeholders Anthony Romano and Junior Maldonado. Union City Mayor Brian Stack was ill and could not make it.
Hudson County road record
The new viaduct cost $54 million to build, the most ever spent on a local roads project in Hudson County. Some of this funding came from a grant from the Federal Local Lead program.
Senator Menendez pointed to the viaduct as an example of the kind of infrastructure that federal funding makes possible. The federal Highway Trust Fund faces a growing budget deficit, and a $302 billion funding infusion touted by President Obama has stalled in Congress.
“Right now,” said Menendez, “we have those in our government who don’t believe that the federal government has a role to play in providing the resources to make projects like this happen.”
Menendez supports a federal transportation funding bill that lasts at least five years. “You cannot build roads to the future if it’s every six months that you’re reauthorizing” a transportation bill, he said at the ceremony.
Hopes of new development nearby
Many of the elected officials present at the bridge ceremony on Monday emphasized the stimulating economic effects of a renovated and safe viaduct linking the Palisades to Hoboken.
Senator Booker called the viaduct “a perfect picture…of exactly what I want to tell our colleagues in Washington D.C.…When you invest a dollar of infrastructure in America, you get $1.44 back in economic development and economic growth.”
Jersey City Mayor Fulop echoed his statements, highlighting the real estate boom currently taking place in the area surrounding the viaduct. “All you need to look at is the uptown portion of Hoboken and the Heights of Jersey City and you can see what dollars like this do for a local economy,” said Fulop.
So far, that development has been slower in coming in the northwest area of Hoboken that the viaduct passes over. Long an underutilized former industrial area, the neighborhood has seen new apartment towers, a movie theater, and a beer hall open in recent years. But a proposed mixed-use complex featuring a bowling alley just south of the viaduct was shot down by the Zoning Board in June.
The city has struggled for years to pass a redevelopment plan that would alter the industrial zoning for the area, but it recently hired a new planner for the project.
Zimmer hailed the new public recreation area being constructed beneath the viaduct as a key step in the area’s revitalization. “For Hoboken,” she said in a press release, “the improvements underneath the viaduct are just as important as those on the bridge.”
Park to open by Labor Day
In the shadow of the 14th Street Viaduct, in the space formerly occupied by a network of steel trusses, Hudson County is building a dog run, walking paths, a court for roller hockey and basketball and space for community activities. Demetrio Arencibia, a Hudson County engineer, said he expected the amenities to be open by Labor Day.
A map of the plan for the new amenities beneath the viaduct can be found at http://hobokennj.org/docs/communitydev/14thstviaduct.pdf.