Record: Bergen County freeholders put plan for access road in Paramus on hold

The Bergen County freeholders shelved on Wednesday a proposal to build a $1.1 million access road to a new County Public Works facility until it can consider safety and traffic concerns raised by Paramus officials.

Borough officials want the county to instead route the road through the adjacent 65-acre county-owned Bergen Regional Medical Center to the Public Works facility, which is under construction near Farview Avenue and Pascack Road.

A traffic engineer hired by the borough told the board that doing so would be less harmful to residents in terms of traffic and safety than the road the administration had proposed.

"This is a better plan from a safety and operation point of view," engineer Louis Lugligo said.

But County Public Works Department Director Joe Crifasi said creating an access road through Bergen Regional posed a host of other problems.

Crifasi estimates building the road through the hospital property would cost between $7 million and $8 million.

There are also legal problems, he said. The hospital operator's lease, which runs through March 2017, states that the county will not interfere with operation of the hospital.

Another issue that has cropped up in the debate were concerns about traffic traveling over a series of aging underground tunnels built as far back as the 1920s, when the hospital — then known as Bergen Pines —  was treating polio and tuberculosis patients.

Paramus officials were alarmed that the aging tunnels could pose a hazard to its fire department vehicles, which are called to the hospital 50 to 70 times a year.

"We're not here complaining about the calls," Paramus Fire Department Chief Kevin Sheehan said. "But with the amount of times we're on this property, I want some assurances that it's safe for my firefighters."

After meeting in closed session with Paramus officials to discuss the problem, the board authorized spending up to $100,000 for an engineering study of the structural integrity of the tunnels and, if necessary, metal plates for the sections of roads that go over them.

Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera said after the meeting that the county had agreed to cover any liability costs for the borough if an accident involving a fire department vehicle and a tunnel were to occur.

LaBarbiera said he was pleased that the board had withdrawn a set of resolutions for building the access road parallel to Jerome Avenue.

Paramus Borough Attorney Paul Kaufman acknowledged that an alternative access road could cost more than the road the county had proposed.

"But whatever we save today will cost us a lot more down the road," Kaufman told the board. "If this is not done right, the residents of Paramus will suffer."

Crifasi countered that the patients, staff and ambulances on the Bergen Regional campus could suffer if the traffic flow also were to include Public Works and Mosquito Control trucks.

He contends the tunnels pose no danger to an occasional fire truck, but they could be affected by the sheer volume of a steady flow of public works trucks.

He also noted that the bids for the $1.1 million road expire Friday, meaning the county will have to re-bid the project.

And if no other access road is built by January when the Public Works facility opens, Crifasi said the trucks will have to use Jerome Avenue, a residential county road, to travel to and from the site.

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