Residents and businesses in Jersey City’s Marion section are wondering whether they’ll ever see the reopening of a closed-off section of Sip Avenue below West Side Avenue that has compelled detouring of vehicular traffic to complete a prolonged sewer project.

The Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority acknowledges there have been unforeseen complications but insists there’s an end in sight. 

Last month, Whitman Avenue resident Sara Clinton complained to the city that the excavation work “poses a significant threat to the well-being and safety of the residents” and “has caused substantial damage to several businesses in the area.”

She urged the city to “allocate adequate resources and funding to address this issue promptly” to remedy the situation.

Logan Avenue resident Josephine Varsi posted on social media that, “Last summer (2022), we were told that the work would be done by September (2022) because the students from Liberty (High School) would have to be able to get to their school.” Now, nearly a year later, work is still ongoing.

“To add insult to injury,” Varsi said, there is no longer any (Rt.) 440 or Society Hill bus service in the neighborhood.”

The JCMUA referred the Jersey City Times to the project engineer Mott MacDonald, New Jersey-based consulting engineers, for an explanation.

The JCMUA says it understands the inconvenience that the work has caused to the residents along Sip Avenue and has tried do everything possible to expedite the work and address resident concerns.  But the work is being performed in the interest of public safety after a car almost fell into a sinkhole last May.

The JCMUA has conducted two public meetings to listen to resident’s concerns and has tried to address them during the course of the project.

In a prepared statement, Mott MacDonald said the work along Sip Avenue is a component of a two-phase infrastructure improvement which is the largest sewer and water main replacement program in the city’s history.  Past administrations turned a blind eye because they thought it too costly.

For the past year, Mott MacDonald said, the JCMUA has been grappling with two issues along Sip Avenue between Rt. 440 and West Side Avenue: “flooding during intense rainfall events over the past several decades” coupled with a 75-year-plus-old, combined sewer line no longer able to handle the volume of waste flowing through it.

Elaborating on the flooding situation, the consultants said: “All of the runoff from Logan Avenue to the north, Journal Square to the east, Fairmount Avenue to the south (and) Hawthorne Street to the west, is directed to the intersection of Sip and West Side.  This approximately 125-acre drainage area will overwhelm the storm drainage system in the intersection.”

Morever, they said, “This condition is aggravated by the fact that the existing combined sewer system along Sip Avenue drains to the Hackensack River” and, during high tides, that system is “submerged” and the roadway cannot drain until the tide recedes.

To remedy the first issue, the JCMUA hired J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, of Hackensack, to construct a pump station at the Sip Avenue outfall to “pump stormwater over the high tide,” thereby allowing the combined sewer to drain during high tide cycles” which will clear roadway flooding more effectively. 

The pump station has been completed at a cost of $4 million.

Meanwhile, there was the condition of the brick combined sewer line itself and the fine soils beneath Sip Avenue. “If a small hole developed in the brick sewer,” the consultants said, “the sand would flow into the sewer, creating a void beneath the pavement. This soil loss would weaken the brick sewer, causing the roadway to collapse.”

This infrastructure failure happened twice in May 2022 and again in October 2022, prompting the JCMUA to contract with Spinello Companies, of Livingston, to replace the combined sewer line with a larger 72-inch pipe, upgrade the stormwater collection system and rebuild the compromised roadway along Sip Avenue between Emerson Street and Whitman Street.

But the improvements have run into some stumbling blocks.

This past April, another collapse occurred at the (Sip and West Side) intersection that prompted the City to close the intersection until the combined sewer could be replaced. There are several major existing utilities in the intersection, including two large mains, high voltage electrical duct banks, fiber optic lines and gas mains that were also put at risk by the condition of the combined sewer.

As a result, the contractor was required to relocate two water mains and support all of the other utilities. Despite these difficulties, the contractor is scheduled to complete the work by August 31, 2023.

The overall cost for the Sip Avenue project, including the stormwater collection system is projected at $14 million. 

Once the project has been completed, the roadway will be repaved and any sidewalks that have been disturbed will be restored, the consultants said. Despite 18-months of inconvenience, the infrastructure along Sip Avenue will be upgraded with a useful life of 100 years and flooding at the intersection of Sip and West Side will be mitigated.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...