Belleville to receive $290K grant from Safe Streets to Transit program

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BELLEVILLE, NJ — On Feb. 15, the Murphy administration announced $8.6 million in 2022 Safe Streets to Transit program grants for 19 municipal projects in nine counties, including $290,000 to Belleville for a pedestrian safety project in the area around Silver Lake Light Rail Station. This year’s grants represent the largest amount of funds provided in a single year for the Safe Streets to Transit program.

“Providing safe transportation alternatives for everyone in our state, particularly those who rely on mass transit, is part of my commitment to make New Jersey more fair and equitable,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “By significantly increasing the amount of money available to the Safe Streets to Transit program, we are making sure people walking to transit facilities can do so safely.”

“The increased funding means a record number of communities are receiving Safe Streets to Transit grants this year to improve pedestrian safety throughout the state,” New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “These grants will allow 19 municipalities to improve sidewalks and provide safe and convenient crosswalks near bus and rail stations, promoting the use of public transit.”

SSTT projects are awarded on a competitive basis, taking into consideration proximity to a transit facility, safety, accessibility, project need and applicant’s past performance using other local aid funds. 

“The grant will be for replacement of sidewalks, installing handicap corners, safer crosswalks, better lighting and some beautification projects,” Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli told the Belleville Post on Feb. 23. “This will be in the area directly around the Silver Lake light rail. Hundreds of people use that form of transportation on a daily and weekly basis, and they should be entitled to a safe, enjoyable experience. We are hoping this grant will help bring that vision into fruition.”

Belleville will use the funding to improve two pedestrian corridors that lead to the Silver Lake Light Rail Station: Belmont Avenue and Franklin Street. As stated in the town’s grant application, the walkways on these two streets are not currently compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and have raised, fractured and/or missing sidewalks, which can create tripping hazards to pedestrians.

“It is not uncommon to see pedestrians avoiding sidewalks and traveling along the comparatively smoother roadways, which unacceptably endangers pedestrians and highlights the need to promptly improve the sidewalks of Belmont Avenue and Franklin Street,” the application read. 

Additionally, the town sought the grant because it expects an influx of light rail riders following the completion of a mixed-use complex on Belmont Avenue. This development will create 232 residential units.

“In terms of new developments, we not only clean up contaminated and blighted property and get new, increased revenues, but we also have the opportunity to apply for and receive grants which otherwise may have been unavailable,” Mayor Michael Melham told the Belleville Post on Feb. 22. “This is a perfect example of smart redevelopment leading to infrastructure improvements which help all Belleville residents.”

As a result of the current unsafe conditions and the projected future increase in pedestrians, the township plans to construct ADA-compliant ramps at all intersections; replace sidewalks and driveway aprons that present tripping hazards; reset streetscape pavers; and install crosswalk striping, stop bars and a pedestrian crossing light.

This project is expected to reset 230 square yards of pavers, as well as to install 30 tons of Superpave hot mix asphalt base course and 15 tons of surface course; 2,460 linear feet of curbing, 3,050 square yards of concrete sidewalk; 495 square yards of concrete for driveways; 300 square yards of hot mix asphalt for driveways; one solar-powered pedestrian crossing light; 49 detectable warning surfaces; 9,300 linear feet of traffic markings; and fertilizer, topsoil and other landscaping elements.

The application also stated that, according to the U.S. census’ most recent estimates, 7 percent of Belleville’s households do not own a vehicle, while 41 percent possess only one vehicle. Thus, many residents cannot drive to work and instead rely on public transportation. 

“By providing safe routes to the Silver Lake Light Rail Station, the township will ensure that residents’ safety and transportation needs are met,” the application read. “This project will enable all residents to safely access a low-cost transit option that connects to Bloomfield and Newark Penn Station, the latter of which links to the PATH train and various bus routes. As a result, residents will be able to efficiently access both New Jersey’s statewide transportation network and PATH routes to Manhattan.”

The Safe Streets to Transit program is one of several pedestrian safety initiatives funded through the state Transportation Trust Fund. The SSTT program provides funding to counties and municipalities to improve the overall safety and accessibility for mass transit riders walking to transit facilities. The program encourages transit users to walk to transit stations, and facilitates the implementation of projects and activities that will improve pedestrian conditions within a 1-mile radius of a transit facility or station.

Traditionally, there is $1 million available each year for Safe Streets to Transit Program grants. This year, two additional appropriations were funded for this program. One was for $1.8 million. In addition, $13.5 million was appropriated for Grants-in-Aid programs, specifically for the Transit Village and Safe Streets to Transit programs, and for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and accommodations. Of the $13.5 million, $5.8 million was provided for the Safe Streets to Transit program.

“Grants such as this one are an excellent way to do these vital projects — projects that we generally do not have budget for,” Cozzarelli said. “We are thankful for the county, state and federal governments for this additional type of funding that helps our community become a safer and more beautiful place to live.”