BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A stalled Essex County road project in Bloomfield was making life more difficult for senior citizens living in Kinder Towers, but that problem might be lessened due to the intercession of 1st Ward Councilman Elias Chalet.
The road project is the replacement of the Hoover Avenue bridge which crosses over the Third River, at the southern end of Brookside Park, a short distance from Kinder Towers. The work was stopped in early summer because state funding to all state road projects was halted as the governor and state lawmakers attempt to put together a process to fund the transportation trust fund.
The bridge is a direct route to reach Broad Street and its North Center business district from Kinder Towers. Without the bridge, the senior residents who can walk and do not drive must go down Morris Place and cut through Brookside Park to get to the North Center. But steps must be climbed on that route, limiting access for some seniors. The only other available option is to go to Bay Avenue and then around the park.
“It’s an inconvenience for seniors who live here but don’t drive,” said Ruth Carlesco, a Kinder Tower resident who does drive. “Half of us walk with canes and most of the seniors go to McDonald’s or the CVS and they have to walk down through the park. Some, I hear, have to take cabs. If you can walk, you don’t mind taking a little extra jaunt down through the park. But for people with disabilities, it’s a hardship.”
Another route to the North Center is a paved road, an easement, between the Kinder Towers parking lot and James Street, a block away. The easement goes along the Third River. But at James Street there is a gate, locked by the township. The manager of Kinder Towers, Robert Tully, in a telephone interview last week, had expressed interest in getting the gate unlocked.
“The biggest issue is that we’re a senior handicap facility,” Tully said. “On a daily basis, we have a lot of people that can’t do their business.”
He said the owner of Kinder Towers, National Church Residences, owns both the easement and the fence which has been locked.
“That easement would make a big difference,” he said.
Tully said he had left word at Town Hall, about two weeks earlier, for Township Administrator Matt Watkins to get in touch with him. He would like have the gate unlocked. The town has placed a lock on the gate to limit use of the easement. Kinder Towers does not have a key to the lock.
“I asked if they could open it from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” he said.
Tully said he had not heard from Watkins. But Chalet, when he learned of the problem, contacted Watkins. Kinder Towers is in Chalet’s ward.
According to Chalet, Watkins would have no problem opening the access road for a few hours a day to pedestrians but he did not want vehicular traffic using the road.
“He said there was never a formal request for people to go there,” Chalet said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “If they want it open, fine, but they have to secure it.”
Tully had said if the gate were open, trucks could make a deliveries to Kinder Towers. He said the only way for trucks to reach Kinder Towers now was down Chapman Street, which is narrowed by cars parked on both sides of the street.
The easement goes right by the Collins House, an historic site because of its connection to the Morris Canal. The 250-year-old house is being renovated by the township. It is virtually located in the shadow of Kinder Towers in a fenced-off area beside the Third River. The easement is occasionally used by the township for Morris Canal Greenway tour groups when they stop to view the house. Access to the easement from the parking lot of Kinder Towers is through a small gate.
According to Bloomfield Councilman Carlos Pomares, whose advocacy helped create the Morris Canal Greenway Committee, the house was illegally entered sometime in the early part of the summer. There was no damage but a piece of plywood was spray painted. He said the Bloomfield Police Department routinely checks the Collins House.
Besides the Hoover Avenue bridge, which is a $772,500 Department of Transportation project, there are three other transportation project in Bloomfield affected by the halt of state funding. One is a $273,000 DOT project at the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and JFK Parkway. The two other projects affect New Jersey Transit commuters: a $9.7 million improvement project for disability access on the Newark Light Rail Station; and a $3.7 million upgrade to renovate the light rail tunnel.
The work has been stopped because the legislators have been unable to agree with Gov. Chris Christie on how to fund DOT and NJT projects, and they do not have the votes to override his veto. The legislators agreed to a 23-cent tax increase for gas but Christie also wanted a cut in the sales tax. Lawmakers instead offered a cut in estate taxes and an increase in tax credits for low-income workers.
In a telephone interview last week, state Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, said senators had been told that Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, had the Republican votes to override a veto but then they were told he did not.
“The gas tax is still on the table,” Rice said.
Rice did not know how much the construction shut down would eventually cost the state.
“Fuel costs are down,” he said, “When fuel goes up, construction goes up.”
He was also concerned that, once the projects have funding, they would take longer to complete because of shorter daylight hours.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-District 28, who represents Bloomfield, said there were “a lot of moving parts” to the problem.
“The reduction in sales tax or estate tax creates a hole,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “But it will create economic activities which will bring about a healthy economy.”
He said he was at the Hoover Avenue site.
“I’ve been around to look at these projects,” he said. “It’s very upsetting.”
Tully had said he would be happy with whatever amount of time the township offered him, even a few hours.
“My people don’t go out at night,” he said.