By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Although the state Department of Transportation maintains nothing definitive is on the agenda, parents, transportation advocates, officials and and community organizers in Asbury Park are concerned that there are three imminent railroad closures on schedule.
The proposed closures of Sixth Avenue, First Avenue and Fifth Avenue, show up repeatedly in DOT planning documents with the Sixth Avenue crossing the first stop on the express out of Trenton. Unlike the closure of Summerfield crossing almost 10 years ago,- which produced little community opposition,-the fight against the current proposal is gathering speed.
Polli Schildge of Asbury Park’s Complete Streets Coalition said she has received more than 70 emails from community opponents, including public safety advocates. The list is growing at such a rate that the state has asked her to bundle the electronic letters, rather than pass them on individually due to the volume of work being produced.
“We are concerned about the neighborhood on Sixth Avenue being cut off by this proposed closure,” Schildge said, communicating to the DOT and city administration.
Since she first undertook the effort to widely inform people, the issue has become a bit of a line in the sand for folks here, given the divisive role the railroad tracks have played in this community, long trying to come together after being torn apart by segregation and the lack of opportunity for all.
But even before the current activity, the city had embarked on its own plan to alert people of this plan which officials consider ill advised
The proposed closures were resurrected in a November 2022 study commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration and the state DOT with cooperation from Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation and Rowan University Center for Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Engineering Systems.
The DOT Bureau of Research said its goal was to identify places for closures to increase safety, save money and improve service.
“A closure at Sixth Avenue would affect people walking and rolling to services across the city,” Schildge wrote this week to stakeholders. ” People living in low -cost housing on Drury Lane (an extension of Sixth Avenue) would be directly adversely affected, (as would) students and families walking to the high school playing fields, which serve kids of all ages.
“Asbury Park has had a history of division by east and west resulting from the design of transportation infrastructure since its founding,” she continued. “The train tracks have represented a delineation of economic and color lines. The Summerfield and Sewall Avenue crossing closures are a sign of disregard on the part of DOT for the people of this city.
Schildge said she does not accept that there is any safety benefit to be gained by closing crossings, rather it’s clearly a cost savings to avoid upgrading and maintaining the crossings.
The city has endeavored to rally potential partners in the fight.
On March 15, 2022, then-Acting City Transportation Director James Bonanno wrote to Schools Superintendent RaShawn M. Adams to relate the proposal with an eye toward relying on the district to pass along the plan to parents and other stakeholders. It is no secret that there is tension between the city and Adams’s administration and there is no evidence that the school district passed along this information or acknowledged the city’s letter.
Here is part of Bonanno’s text: …New Jersey DOT … “informed the city that they are recommending the closing of the Sixth Avenue at-grade rail crossing. All vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians would be prohibited from crossing the NJ TRANSIT railroad tracks at Sixth Avenue and would instead need to cross at Sunset Avenue.
“The mayor and council of the city of Asbury Park continues to oppose the closing of the Sixth Avenue crossing. Ultimately, NJDOT may choose to close the crossing without the city’s concurrence.”
The city noted to Adams and other opponents as well that any feedback should be directed to Vanessa Meades from the Office of Government & Community Relations at NJDOT at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-963-1982.
“There is a large, low-income apartment complex there, the high school playing fields (used by young kids for baseball too), the high school stadium, and the Culinary Arts Center, which is part of Monmouth County Vocational School District,” Schildge said. “The high school itself is right around the corner. People who don’t own cars, and walk and roll to and from this neighborhood will have to take a huge detour to cross to Main Street and get to school and back home or to the schools.”
Mayor John Moor agreed with Schildge noting that additional railroad crossings may only increase traffic and further incidents including congestion at other intersections where traffic backs up creating response time difficulties for rescue vehicles.
Schildge wrote to Police Chief David Kelso and asked for him to consider the public safety implications of the proposal She noted the issues that are central to the issue are those of equity in regards to dividing a city geographically that has historically been divided for more than a century. The closure would require long detours for people walking to access destinations and get home and emergency vehicles would be impeded.
An Inquiry from The Coaster produced this response from Leonna Nelson, public information officer for the DOT: “The proposed railroad crossings are still under review at this time.”