MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Construction for improvements along many of Irvington Avenue’s sidewalks and crosswalks should commence this fall, says Essex County Planner David Antonio. The county’s bid-winning contractor is AA Berms, LLC, and “we hope to have a contract executed in mid-October.” Work on Phase 1 can then commence and will continue through mid-November. “It will only stop when we can no longer work due to weather” and then the project will be completed in the spring, he said.
Antonio made his comments at a Sept. 25 presentation open to the community. Some 25 residents, business owners, and elected officials came together in a chapel at St. Andrew Kim Church in Maplewood to examine the first two phases of improvements along Irvington Avenue.
“The great thing about this project is that it’s helping four towns,” he noted. The three streets to be improved - Irvington Avenue, Clinton Avenue and Parker Avenue - run through Maplewood, South Orange, Newark, and Irvington. Irvington Avenue and Clinton Avenue are Essex County roads and Parker Avenue is a Maplewood municipal road.
Funds for the county project were garnered through a federal government Transportation Alternative Program grant. The approval process was very competitive and a long haul, said Annette DePalma, Director of Community Development for Maplewood. She has been shepherding this project to fruition since 2011. It was then that she helped the town earn a Together North Jersey grant to pay for a 2014 study to assess the condition of Irvington Avenue. The town then “used the basis of that report as a springboard” in applying for the TAP grant “to implement these changes,” DePalma said. The grant was approved in 2018 and then the work of planning the improvements began. Essex County “now [has] funds close to $3 million to do an entire streetscape renovation,” she said.
Phase 1 implementation will rework six targeted improvement sites along a one mile stretch of Irvington Avenue, providing ergonomic crosswalks, improved lighting, and new stamped concrete sidewalks. It will include new pedestrian crossings at several streets that are currently lacking them, including at Coolidge Avenue, close to a daycare center, and at Hillcrest Road, near Extra Supermarket.
Phase 2 is “really completing the street,” Antonio said. It will be a singular continuous quarter-mile improvement of along the intersection of Irvington, Parker, and Clinton Avenues.
The improvements during both phases “will not only improve aesthetics, but also safety,” Antonio noted. He used as an example that the position of the stop bar for cars at the crosswalks will remain the same as they are currently, but the crosswalks themselves will be moved toward the intersections to improve visibility and offer a greater physical distance between cars and pedestrians.
Once the work is completed, the county will remain responsible for maintenance of the corners, he said. But some things have yet to be worked out: In response to a community member’s question about who will collect the trash from the new receptacles, Antonio responded it wasn’t finalized. “We’re hoping we will be able to partner with local municipalities” on that topic, he said.
Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, in opening remarks, said, “We've been spending a lot of money and energy on Springfield Avenue...and it’s working” to bring in businesses and consumers. He wants to see the same success in improving this area as well. “We want to make this a vibrant shopping area,” he said. He also said Maplewood has hired a consultant to determine whether this commercial district should be designated as an area in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment. Other elected officials attending included Maplewood Town Council members Frank McGehee, Nancy Adams, and Dean Dafis, and South Orange Village Trustee Summer Jones.
Local resident Dylan Quan lives close to the area to be improved in Phase 1. He said he’s “excited for the capital improvements.” It can only benefit his family as neighborhood homeowners, he noted. His only concern was that down the road the town could be courting the development of student housing for Seton Hall University. “That might be a double edged sword,” he said.