Call From Governor Murphy To Mayor Hokanson Puts Train Station Project Back On Track

“Mayor Hokanson?”, the man on the other end of Roselle Park Mayor Carl Hokanson’s phone asked when the head of the borough picked up his phone while sitting in the clerk’s office last month. He then introduced himself, “Phil Murphy.”

“Phil Murphy who?”, Mayor Hokanson recollected during his report at last night’s Mayor & Council meeting. It took a second for the mayor to realize who was calling him. He recounted, “The governor of the State of New Jersey called me on my cellphone, the mayor of Roselle Park.”

Three months ago, Mayor Hokanson sent New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy a letter congratulating him on the appointing of Kevin Corbett to New Jersey Transit as its new executive director. In March, Mayor Hokanson met with the Governor Murphy’s aide, Samantha McAllister, in his office in Roselle Park and sat down and talked about the dangers and condition that the platform is in as well as the lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Then came the phone call between the head of the borough and the head of the state about a week or two later. Mayor Hokanson recounted that Governor Murphy stated that he read the letter and spoke with Ms. McAllister and that he was going to look into it and move Mayor Hokanson’s concerns forward.

On April 16th, Mayor Hokanson received a phone call from Lawrence Hamm, NJ Transit’s Regional Manager of Government & Community Relations. Mr. Hamm said that he was contacted by the governor and that he would be passing on the issues with the Roselle Park train station on to the appropriate people.

Almost a month later, on May 14th, Mayor Hokanson got a phone call from John Leon, Senior Director of NJ Transit’s Office of Government Relations.

“We had a lengthy phone call, very good,” said Mayor Hokanson, “[And] he gave me the following steps. In the next few months, they’re going to be hiring a project engineer . . . They said that due to the circumstances after the Christie administration left, and the new people [came] in, there [was] a lot of retirements, a lot of [positions] that they need to fill but they are looking to have that project manager/engineer up and running by the end of the year. He hopes to have the design of the repairs and the handicap accessibility by the end of the year.”

Mayor Hokanson stated that, according to Mr. Leon, NJ Transit hopes to go out to estimate by the early part of next year and estimate the renovations and improvement to be done within about 18 months.

“Thank you [mayor] for making sure that the follow-ups are done and people are calling you,” Councilman-At-Large Joseph DeIorio said later in the meeting and then asked, “I’ve been trying to get John Leon to commit to this. Could he or someone from Transit just come to one of our meetings [and] do a 15-minute presentation on what’s going on because it’s such great information?”

“I will talk to him. He actually gave me his personal cellphone number so I will call him tomorrow,” replied the mayor.

Jokingly but impressed, First Ward Councilwoman Jayme Lynn Negron said, “Man, the mayor’s got important people.”

“That and $2.54 gets me a cup of coffee,” Mayor Hokanson jokingly responded but then did state he will get in touch with Mr. Leon regarding Council-At-Large DeIorio’s suggestion.

The councilman-at-large added that State Senator Tom Kean Jr. should also be recognized since he was on the Senate committee that was part of the discussion. Mayor Hokanson agreed, stating that, in fact, having ADA accessibility be included in the train station renovations started during the Roselle Park Arts Festival last September when performers from the ZCO Dance Project – artists who have various ranges of physical disabilities – had to disembark at the Union Township train station because Roselle Park’s train station has no ADA accessibility. They traveled from Union Township train station to Roselle Park to perform at the festival. Mayor Hokanson thanked the Union County Board of Freeholders who transported the troupe back to Union train station that evening.

This bit of potential good news is a welcome change from the last time the municipality spoke with NJ Transit in November when the agency notified the governing body that the project was being postponed indefinitely (link).

After the discussion, during the second public comment portion of the meeting, Roselle Park resident Dave Robertson – who uses a power chair – offered his thanks, “Mr. Mayor, congratulations on the train station. That’s good movement. Now that I’m retired it’s not a big deal anymore but getting that station up to ADA compliance is a big deal.”

“We’re trying,” answered Mayor Hokanson.

Today, Mayor Hokanson said that he spoke with John Leon from NJ Transit. The tentative plan is to have Mr. Leon make a presentation to Roselle Park during the August 16th municipal meeting.

The renovation project for the Roselle Park train station was first announced almost four years ago in June of 2014.