This Allenhurst railroad crossing will be permanently closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
By DON STINE
The railroad crossing at Allen Avenue in Allenhurst will be permanently closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic under a New Jersey Transit project now underway- a project that will close off an access street to the borough’s small downtown area.
In 2016 NJT said they planned to close either the Spier or Allen Avenue crossings under a federal mandate to upgrade all railroad crossings, eliminating any crossings deemed unnecessary.
Work on closing the crossing began last week and not all residents and business owners are happy about it.
In 2017 a petition was signed by approximately 700 people urging borough and state officials to keep the railroad crossing open. Thirty-three local business owners also signed a similar petition and letters were sent to state officials in Trenton.
Christian Myer, co-owner of the Shore Antiques Center, 413 Allen Ave. said closing the Allen Avenue crossing limits access to the downtown and that he had hoped borough officials could have prevented it.
“It is turning part of the downtown into a dead end. Pedestrians can’t even walk through and this was a heavily-used crossing. It seems that the borough chose just not to do anything. There was no proactive stance. Everybody’s upset,” he said.
Myer said that signing the petitions just seems like a “waste of time.”
“Nothing seemed to happen in terms of the town getting creative. And they dropped the ball and blew it. I may be jaded because I have a business here, but this is one of the dumbest moves ever,” he said. “I know there is no hope of changing it now.”
But presenting those petitions was not a waste of time, according to borough officials.
Mayor David McLaughlin said the borough did everything it could to stop the project and used the petitions as evidence in presenting their case to the state Department of Transportation and NJT.
“We argued that closing either crossing was not a viable option. We said we don’t want any closed but they argued that there were too many crossings for a small area,” he said.
McLaughlin said borough officials had several meetings with the DOT and NJT on the matter. Several proposals to keep the crossing open were discussed, each that would require the borough to bond for funding.
Initially, the DOT said the cost for upgrading the Allen Ave crossing was about $600,000. The borough offered to contribute $250,000.00 towards the cost of the upgrades and also seek funding through transportation grants to cover the cost of keeping the crossing open, according to a letter recently mailed to borough to residents.
The DOT then responded with a revised cost estimate of over $1 million to keep the crossing open, saying it was the revised cost as of 2019.
The borough would also have to cover yearly maintenance fees for the crossing- a financial cost that they refused to quantify or cap.
“The maintenance fees were open ended and had no cap. We couldn’t bond for that,” the mayor said.
Ultimately, the DOT advised that even if Allenhurst pays all costs to upgrade and maintain this crossing, they intend to close the Allen Avenue railroad crossing.
The last discussions with the DOT involved them offering the borough the option of closing the Spier Avenue crossing instead of Allen Avenue. The borough hired its own traffic consultant to consider this option but concluded that closing Spier Ave. was not a viable option because of higher activity there.
“So, we really spent some serious time on this and it went on for a number of years. We were trying to keep both crossings open,” McLaughlin said.
Borough officials not only brought the signed petitions to their meetings with the DOT and NJT but also letters of concern from fire, police, first aid and other officials to stop the closure, but to no avail.
Several years ago, Asbury Park faced the same crossing closure problem on Summerfield Avenue and the city made the same arguments as Allenhurst, but also to no avail.
The mayor said that the letter to residents, issued last December, “clearly explained what we did” relating to the closing of the railroad crossing. He said that when the newsletter was issued, there was little response from residents or business owners.
“We made it very clear what steps we had taken,” he said.