Montclair Township is breaking ground on South Park Street streetscape improvements this week, adding a new center median, wide pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, a midblock crosswalk and roadway resurfacing.
The new South Park Street will also feature some creative applications of materials. The new median will be constructed of granite blocks, most often used for curbs. Colorful new sidewalks will be made of concrete, and brick and granite pavers will be set in various patterns to create visual interest. Total construction time will be three months.
Councilor Cary Africk said he's extremely pleased that this project has finally begun.
"Over three years ago, [Councilor] Nick Lewis and I attended a presentation at the Business Improvement District offices where we first learned of this proposal which had been talked about for decades. We both championed the project from that day forward," he said. "Soon after that initial meeting, Mayor Jerry Fried and Councilor [Kathryn] Weller-Deming joined in with their enthusiasm.
"I believed then, as I do now, that success must be built upon success. I have always felt that a key to developing an area like Church Street is to build on, in an contiguous fashion, to areas already successful," Africk continued "We are doing this now.
"The state agreed with us, and provided a no interest, long term loan, to further our work. The securing of this loan was no small feat, and I credit [former BID director] Tom Lonergan with that success," he said. "Last weekend our family walked over to the Red Mango, enjoying the glorious weather. Church Street was filled with other families, most of them visitors to Montclair. All were enjoying themselves. The street was packed.
"I believe areas must be of a small enough size to be a 'success.' It's density of pedestrians. You can't fill the entire Bloomfield Ave from end to end," Africk said. "There are other areas that will be successful, if we pay attention. The South End, Watchung Plaza, Upper Montclair, Walnut Street, Bay Street. I realize that there are differences of opinion on this project. I continue to be optimistic, and thank all involved."
According to town officials, engineering the new road project on South Park Street created a few challenges and required more than a year of planning, public meetings, and several design concepts and revisions.
“The current roadway is higher in the center or ‘crowned’ to accommodate roadway drainage to both sides,” said Township Engineer Kimberli Craft. “This presented a major problem as the sidewalks became wider, forcing the roadway to be lowered overall.”
Adding the median required a complete change to the road’s cross-section. "The new cross-section will gently slope from west to east, more closely matching the general topography of Bloomfield Avenue and the surrounding area,” Craft said.
Construction will be done in several stages. The first and longest phase will require closing South Park Street to northbound traffic and limiting southbound traffic to one lane (in the direction toward Church Street and the Crescent Deck). During this phase, the sidewalk on the roadway will be lowered to match the final grade, the drainage culvert on the east side will get a new roof, new sidewalks will be constructed and the center median will be built.
In the next phase, the southbound side will be closed to traffic and new sidewalks will be constructed there. The roadway will also be lowered slightly to meet the east side. The final phase entails milling a portion of the streets beyond the construction area and final paving.
South Park Street has been recognized as a focal point for revitalizing Montclair’s central business district -- known as Montclair Center -- for much of the last decade. The current project is the culmination of a design process that began with conceptual plans developed by the architectural design team of Smith Maran and Arterial in late 2010. The Township held a series of open-house meetings to gather public input and evaluations for the plans. These were followed by Council review and a design was chosen in early 2011.