Major upgrade coming to Brick Church

Photo by Andy Milone
Mayor Ted Green speaks during an event announcing federal funding for accessibility improvements to Brick Church Station in East Orange.

By Andy Milone

EAST ORANGE – Mayor Ted Green recalled that during his first few days in office in 2018 he had a group of residents approach him about the “train station.”

Brick Church Station, an aging landmark dating back decades, has been on the minds of officials and locals for years. On May 28, he and other dignitaries announced alongside it that a massive federal grant will be fulfilling a promise to improve accessibility there.

“When you’re young, the train station looked so big, so beautiful and vibrant. That was almost 40-50 years ago,” said Green before proceeding to explain how today is an example of what happens when all levels of government work together.

North of the railroad tracks near Freeway Drive and underneath the hot sun, they celebrated the $83.31 million awarded to NJ Transit through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “highly competitive” All Stations Accessibility Program.

The program identifies inaccessible stations in the oldest, densest, and most underserved, inequitable and transit-oriented areas of the country, warranting improvements for the elderly, disabled, and others like parents with strollers and kids with backpacks who may find the outdated hubs inconvenient.

“Frankly, when we were thinking about when and where to make this announcement, we were looking at communities who are serious about transit-oriented development,” said Veronica Vanterpool, acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.

“We were looking at communities that are thinking about the important nexus of affordable housing, workforce housing, access to good quality food and mixed-use development, and we have that here.”

The conversation has been ongoing for half a decade, but now work is expected to begin this summer on several years of construction, including those improvements to help the station meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

The list includes high-level platforms, raised canopies, new elevators and security cameras.

Work on the station’s interior will kick off first this summer and will be followed by remediating the viaduct supporting the track bed, said Jeetendra Lade, a NJ Transit program manager.

By 2027, three years of construction on the accessibility improvements is expected to begin. Work would wrap up sometime in 2031. At no time is service expected to be interrupted.

Other improvements already underway through state-funded initiatives include upgrading signage and communication systems, new historic replica lights, repairing the historic benches and terrazzo floor, installing an art installation on windows, converting the former baggage room to leasable commercial office space as well as stairwell, restroom and security upgrades, states a press release.

The ADA improvements – what was celebrated Tuesday — cost approximately $110 million, with 20% being the match and coming out of the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

Officials credited the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., who died a little over a month ago, and the priorities of Gov. Phil Murphy and President Joe Biden. Other Democrats like Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, Congressman Rob Menendez and State Senator Britnee Timberlake also gave support and offered remarks.

The pool of dollars came about through the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021 and now is addressing the East Orange infrastructure dating back to 1836. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people use the station on average per day to head to places like New York City and Hoboken.

The station itself opened in 1922 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. East Orange has approximately 70,000 residents within its boundaries. Most of the station will be untouched and preserved as modern amenities are added and work goes on around it.

“This is really a good example of not just a station improvement, but we’re really revitalizing a whole neighborhood,” said Kevin Corbett, president of NJ Transit. He also hit on how prioritizing mass transportation system will create a “cleaner, more sustainable planet.”

The site is surrounded by new buildings going up, including The Crossings At Brick Church Station taken on by Triangle Equities.

“We realized that in this country we have many transit systems, particularly our older ones, that are not accessible to everyone who needs them and that means transit cannot be the lifeline of opportunity for everyone, only for some, and what we’re trying to do is level that playing field,” said Vanterpool.