Newark plans new pedestrian skyway, and commuters are going to pay for it

Parking in Newark is getting more costly for non-residents who commute into the city, but the extra cash in the coffers will fund two major projects in the state’s largest city.

A 3.5% parking tax imposed on commuters will pay for a new pedestrian bridge — located a short walk away from Prudential Center — that will connect Newark Penn Station to the Ironbound section of the city. The parking tax will also fund a new homeless shelter and transitional housing.

Early cost projections for the bridge are $80 to $100 million and city residents will be able to get either an exemption or rebate on the tax, said Newark Chief Operating Officer Natasha Rogers. Included in that price tag are the housing and shelter projects.

“It promotes mass transit and it also has a safety feature so people are not crossing over McCarter Highway or six lanes of traffic,” said Rogers, who is also the project’s lead.

City council members in March approved the tax, which applies to short and long-term parking. It was not immediately clear if the tax could apply to parking at the airport. The extra fee is in addition to a 15% parking tax that already exists in Newark, according to the city ordinance.

The 3.5% parking tax was made possible after legislation sponsored by Democratic state senators from Essex and Hudson counties: M. Teresa Ruiz, Ron Rice and Sandra Cunningham. The bill, signed into law this year, allows municipalities with more than 100,000 residents to impose taxes on short, long-term and special events parking to fund projects that include pedestrian access to mass transit.

City residents will have to initially pay the 3.5% parking tax for short term parking, but may obtain a rebate afterwards at the city’s tax office. Newarkers will have to present proof of residence to avoid paying the extra tax on long-term parking, such as monthly parking passes.

Newark already has a special event parking tax of 7%, but the additional 3.5% will not apply to those spots.

Jersey City passed a similar tax earlier this year to build a light rail station.

Mayor Ras Baraka made the announcement about the bridge and parking tax during his state of the city address earlier this month and likened it to New York City’s High Line walk.

“It will connect two parts of our city and spur millions of dollars of development around it," the mayor said in his sixth address.

The skywalk is the second phase of the city’s Mulberry Commons project, a long-sought concrete park that opened last year that sits across from Prudential Center. One of the entrances to the skywalk would begin on the McCarter Highway side of the park near the Ironside building.

The pedestrian bridge will span six busy lanes across McCarter Highway, also known as Route 21. A train hall that connects to Newark Penn Station on the Edison Place side would include five retail spaces as well.

The rest of the skywalk would be roofless, feature greenery and bike lanes, said Rogers.

The city will own the homeless shelter, which will consist of 150 beds, but it will be operated by a different entity. The transitional housing will have 100 units. The cost of both will run between $20 to $40 million, Rogers said.

Rogers said the transitional housing and homeless shelter will likely be completed before the bridge. The legislation that increases the parking tax for mass transit projects also allows carveouts for the shelter.

The homeless shelter will not be targeted towards those without addresses who frequent Penn Station, Rogers said. It will be available to all homeless across the city.

Construction on the project is slated to begin in 2022, Rogers said. The undertaking required approvals from Amtrak and developers who own properties in the surrounding area.

“It’s a lot of moving pieces for a very complex project,” Rogers said. “But everyone is invested.”

There are major redevelopment plans slated for the area around Newark Penn Station, which has been characterized as unwelcoming by at least one prominent developer.

Onyx Equities purchased three of the four Gateway buildings with its iconic skywalks about two years ago and is planning a massive renovation project in the area. The Ironside building, which is adjacent to Mulberry Commons, was also converted from a warehouse to penthouse-style office spaces.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-10-25 02:56:40 -0700