Friday, June 05, 2009

Planners Approve Road Projects

Planning Board members had lots of questions Thursday before they approved three road projects to be funded with $409,000 in federal economic recovery funds.

They included the status of a bridge by one road site and the the difference between "shovel-ready" and "shovel-worthy" projects from another Planning Board member's view.

The city is in Phase II of a six-year road improvement program, but to take advantage of the opportunity, city engineers Remington & Vernick extracted three roads from year three of the plan. Grants through the Community Development Block Grant program must be awarded and work must begin before July 20.

The projects include Somerset Street from Front Street to the city's north border, Geraud Avenue from West Front Street to the city's border with North Plainfield and Cedarbrook Road from Prospect Avenue to Watchung Avenue.

Planning Board member Gordon Fuller asked how the city would fund the repairs if not for the extra money and engineer Randy Laks said the city would have gone out for bonds. The total for all three roads exceeds $429,000, Laks said. Asked by member Horace Baldwin how the city would handle the gap, Laks said bids were coming in "very aggressive" and the projects might come in under the funding.

Describing the projects, engineer Dennis McNulty said Somerset Street would be milled and resurfaced, with new pavement stripes and one new street tree. Councilman Cory Storch, liaison to the Planning Board, asked about a vacant lot on Somerset Street that was supposed to be developed as part of the former Tepper's department store conversion to 75 apartments. Planning Division Director Bill Nierstedt said to date there are no plans for the lot, prompting Storch to ask whether the city has any leverage or will just have to wait and see what happens. But as the question was not strictly related to the road projects, it went unanswered Thursday.

Board member William Toth questioned how the how the tree will be installed and McNulty said although the sidewalk has stamped concrete, plain concrete will be used for the sidewalk. Board member Ron Scott-Bey said he wanted it to match, but Laks said the stamped concrete has a polymer coating and there are questions of its longevity. Laks said engineers could try to match the existing streetscape or could use pavers.

Geraud Avenue will be completely reconstructed, McNulty said. Instead of a two-to-one replacement for six trees to be removed, six will be planted on the block-long street and the balance will be applied to the Cedarbrook project, where the street is much longer. Curb ramps will be added in anticipation of a project to build a walking and bike path along the Green Brook.

Board members were concerned about the Geraud Avenue bridge, which has been closed for many years. Storch questioned its status and Scott-Bey asked why the street was chosen. Nierstedt explained that the three sites were chosen to use the grant opportunity and Laks said the projects had to meet certain criteria. But Storch repeated the words of President Barack Obama, who said projects should be both "shovel-ready" and "shovel-worthy," noting there are few houses on Geraud Avenue.

Toth asked what would happen to the road if the bridge is replaced, but was assured it would not be damaged. Laks said a developer was "adamant" about having the bridge restored and McNulty said he believed Somerset County had obtained a grant to do preliminary design on a new bridge.

(Some background - the bridge is one of 18 over the Green Brook. Replacement costs for several were set at $1 million each and the city, North Plainfield and engineers from Union and Somerset County met many years ago to decide on priorities for bridge repair. Because a supermarket and other development was proposed for the Marino's site on West Front Street, Plainfield wanted the Geraud Avenue bridge replaced to make a link to Route 22. However, the site has yet to be developed. The last developer considered for the site was AST Development Corp. in 2006, but the conditional designation expired some time ago.)

On Cedarbrook Road, McNulty said the proposal is to reconstruct the entire road, which has drainage problems. New curbing and a concrete gutter for drainage would be installed. Because the road abuts an historic district, a special concrete mix will be used. The street will receive a number of new London Plane trees to replace missing ones on the road.

Fuller asked whether any work would be done on Brook Lane and Laks said that was part of Phase II.

The Cedarbrook Road project must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission, Laks said. Fuller asked about curb materials and Laks said there had already been "quite a bit of discussion" on the subject. (A recent City Council meeting included a lengthy discussion on Belgian blocks versus bluestone or plain concrete.)

Toth asked whether trees were being selected with regard to overhead wires and was assured that they were.

Before the vote, board attorney Michele Donato suggested two conditions: That if stamped concrete is removed, pavers must be installed and that the engineers continue to work closely with the city on selection of street trees. The projects, as well as another on South Second Street from Spooner Avenue to Plainfield Avenue, were then approved. The South Second Street work will use a $265,000 CDBG grant and another $239,161 in NJDOT funding for a total of $504,161.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice, It was in Jack Gill's days, but North Plainfield wanted to eliminate many of the bridges on the border, and if memory serves me right, the Jefferson Ave bridge is to be removed and not replaced.

2:50 PM  

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