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South Orange's River Greenway Project: Why Isn't It Finished?

Rahway River in South Orange Credits: File photo

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The River Greenway Project, which would connect South Orange and Maplewood with a 3,600-foot pedestrian path and bikeway, has encountered various construction hurdles, including historical landmark designations and existing pollution.

In August, 2015, South Orange was awarded a $1 million grant under the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Transportation Alternatives Program for the River Greenway Project, a plan that would connect the northern and southern borders of South Orange with a single trail. 

According to South Orange Village Trustee Howard Levison, the $1.5 million project has been stopped indefinitely by reviews from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the State Historical Preservation Society.

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Regulations imposed by the Historical Preservation Society forbid the demolition of the bridge’s existing support columns, as well as the reuse of the existing bridge structure. Reviews also ban the construction of a new bridge structure without DEP and Historic Preservation Society approval.

There are additional concerns about existing water infrastructure, as well as the integrity of the access road off of Walton Ave. An old water pipe that is still in use by the township runs under the road and the proposed bridge design, and according to Levison, replacing it beforehand is not a simple fix.

“To install a new pipe before the bridge we’d need to install a new road, but the road would be damaged by the cranes and trucks that came to install the new bridge,” said Levison. “It’s just another problem on the list.”

The abandoned pump house also presents issues, such as vandals and grant appropriation, according to Levison. The existing building cannot be demolished with the federal grant, so removing the structure is not within the budget of the project. However, the flooded and crumbling building is both unattractive and unsafe for local pedestrians.

Levison said he still remains optimistic despite the hurdles, and suggested that the next governor might be more attentive to the bureaucratic reviews plaguing the project than the current governor, Chris Christie.

“I think we’ve got a lot of cool possibilities with sustainable energy for lights on this project,” said Levison. “I’d love for us to get moving on the construction sometime this year.”

The River Greenway Project was one of 28 projects to receive funding under the Transportation Alternatives Program in 2015. The grant is one of the largest to ever be awarded to South Orange.

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