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Ferry Terminal Restored

Night view of well lit Ferry Terminal
The “lightbulbs” around the terminal’s archways are lit by fiber optic strands—a light source that is much more accessible than the incandescent bulbs originally used. Modern light-emitting diodes replace the neon lighting in the Erie Lackawanna sign on top of the terminal. Courtesy of Zbig Jedrus 

Ferry service has returned to the restored Hoboken Ferry Terminal, offering choice and convenience to New Jersey commuters who use this key intermodal transportation hub to cross the Hudson River into New York City.  

January 17, 2012—After almost 45 years, ferry service has returned to New Jersey’s Hoboken Ferry Terminal, marking the completion of a nine-year redevelopment and rehabilitation of the historical terminal, which is owned by the New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit). The restoration of the 29,000 sq ft terminal and its ferry slips are part of a larger project, the redevelopment and rehabilitation of the Hoboken Terminal and Rail Yard complex that was begun more than 15 years ago.

“Ferry service is an integral part of the transportation mix, and our state’s investment to restore the slips is one that we all know will pay dividends for generations to come,” said James Simpson, NJ Transit’s chairman and the New Jersey Department of Transportation commissioner, in a written statement to Civil Engineering online. “Projects such as the restoration of the Hoboken terminal do much more than meet our transportation needs, create jobs, and grow the local economy. The revitalization of this world-class transit hub enhances the very quality of life we all enjoy in the Garden State.” 

“The Hoboken Terminal is one of the largest multimodal transportation hubs in the nation,” says Bruce Jabbonsky, R.A., the project manager of the Hoboken Terminal and Rail Yard redevelopment and a vice president of the New York City-based engineering/architecture firm STV. NJ Transit awarded STV the design contract to redevelop and rehabilitate the Hoboken Terminal and Yard complex in 1994, Jabbonsky says. Since then, a number of design and construction firms, led by STV, have been a part of the extensive Hoboken redevelopment project. The terminal complex serves nearly 60,000 commuters each day, integrating train, light-rail, and bus services in New Jersey—ferry service crosses the Hudson River into Manhattan while Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) trains rapidly move under the river into the city.

The Hoboken rail yard and terminal 

The Hoboken rail yard and terminal, foreground, and the ferry
terminal on the Hudson River form a multimodal transit center. 
Courtesy of Julian Olivas

The two-story, Beaux-Arts ferry terminal and the ferry slips were built in 1907 by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad as part of the larger, historical Lackawanna Railroad Terminal. The Hoboken Ferry Terminal, which in its infancy loaded horse-drawn wagons onto bilevel ferries, began to lose passengers during the 1920s and 1930s to new modes of transportation and to the opening of the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. Eventually, ferry service was halted in 1967, and the once elegant terminal fell into serious disrepair. Much of the ornate copper cladding had fallen off of the exterior. In 1973, in an effort to save the building, the complex was added to both the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

The real push to restore the ferry terminal and slips, Jabbonsky says, happened on September 11, 2001, when the PATH tubes were shut down; ferry service suddenly became important again. Although ferry service was reinstated in 1989, it was from a much smaller “temporary” space in the Pullman Immigrant Building south of the ferry terminal. The Immigrant Building, also in need of repair, was where most of the Ellis Island immigrants dispersed by rail to other parts of the country, Jabbonsky explains.

In early 2003, NJ Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey entered into an agreement to allow for the restoration of the Hoboken Terminal ferry slips and supporting infrastructure, with the goal of returning ferry service to its original location while protecting and enhancing the historical elements of the terminal. The total project cost was $120 million. Each agency effectively secured approximately half of the funding—some funding allocated from each entity. Additional federal funding was secured by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and NJ Transit, with support from the State Transportation Trust Fund.

STV, which created a comprehensive master plan for the Hoboken Terminal Complex, directed the renovation of the Hoboken Ferry Terminal in three phases, the ultimate goal being to restore ferry service to the historical building. In addition to project management, STV also provided mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and industrial engineering design services. Tishman Construction Corporation of New Jersey, based in Newark, served as the construction manager.

“With each phase of renovating this historic building, which was in serious disrepair because it was not in use for many years, there were a lot of unforeseen conditions,” says Randy Doliber, the project’s executive and a vice president of Tishman. “Repairs to the structure involved more than was anticipated in many cases.” 

Timber gangways connecting the terminal and barges 

To comply with the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office,
timber was used for the gangways connecting the terminal and
barges. Arched truss timber gangways were designed to be
similar to the original gangways. Courtesy of Zbig Jedrus

Phase I, begun in 2004 and completed in 2005, focused on underpinning and replacing the terminal’s north wall. Phase II, completed in April 2008, involved restoring the terminal’s highly ornate copper-clad east and south exterior facades and some major structural repairs. The design team’s strategy was to restore the exterior of the building as faithfully as possible to its original design intent, preserving as much of the original appearance as feasible, Jabbonsky says. New York City-based architects Beyer Blinder Belle led the design of the copper facade’s restoration, with New York City-based Gilsanz Murray Steficek, LLP, providing structural engineering to support the copper skin and repair the building’s structure.

A major milestone of Phase II was the replacement of the historical clock tower, which had to be taken down and dismantled in the early 1950s due to wind and storm damage. According to Doliber, there was keen interest in restoring the clock tower, which is a well-known landmark and “symbol of Hoboken,” Doliber says. “We had a limited budget for it, but with a little creativity we were able to come up with a plan for restoring it that was feasible and within our budget.” Doliber went on to explain that Campbellsville Industries prefabricated the tower at its shop in Kentucky and then shipped it to the site. The tower was then assembled in the plaza and lifted into place by crane. The same copper cladding had been used for the original tower.

Creativity also came into play as New York City-based foundation engineers Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers replaced the original, deteriorated wooden pilings, which held the terminal completely above the Hudson River. They drove the new 100-ton steel pipe pilings 130 ft down to rock, and in many cases those piles were driven with very little headroom and had to be done in short sections and spliced together, Doliber says.

“Dredging the silted-in slips took some creative problem solving, too,” Doliber says. “The place where we had planned to send the dredge material ended up not being able to receive it. With a little creativity, we found a different location in Connecticut that needed the material, and it worked out for everybody.”

Jabbonsky points out that each step of the project required compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, which provide guidelines on how historic buildings can be modified. All work was coordinated with the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for approval. For example, a portion of the “team concourse floor,” the lower level of the terminal where teams of horses and wagons were loaded onto bilevel ferries, had to be raised 3 ft to avoid the periodic flooding of the Hudson River. “However, we couldn’t raise the floor [the second story] above us because it’s a historic building, says Jabbonsky. “We went as high as we could to avoid flood waters yet leave enough headroom—8 1/2 ft above sea level, which is still a foot and a half below the 100-year storm level.”

In many instances the reconstruction and restoration were performed in ways that were better and more convenient to maintain than the original features, Doliber notes. For example, Newark, New Jersey-based historic restoration contractors Schtiller & Plevy restored and replaced the copper siding that was falling off the facade in a way that is more durable than the original facade. “We reused some of the original copper whenever we could,” Doliber says. “The new and refurbished copper was installed using ¼ in. by 2 in. stainless steel armatures behind the copper,” adds Jabbonsky. “With the armatures, the copper facade can withstand wind loads and resist corrosion.”

As an improvement to the incandescent lightbulbs used for marquee lighting around each of the archways, fiber optic light now mimics the marquee lighting, Doliber continues. “The ‘lightbulbs’ receive light through a fiber optic strand. The light source is more accessible and lightbulbs no longer need be changed high above the Hudson River.”

Similarly, modernized LED lighting replaced the Erie Lackawanna sign that originally was a neon light on top of the terminal. “It looks just like the original neon lighting, but lasts much longer and is much more durable,” Doliber says.  

New canopies on terminal's exterior 

The exterior of the terminal features new canopies above the ferry
service areas. Courtesy of Zbig Jedrus

The goal of Phase III was to restore ferry service. “The team had the unique challenge of preserving the historic character of this very significant historic building while necessarily incorporating the highly specialized infrastructure and operational needs of contemporary ferry service,” Jabbonsky says. “This included the design of infrastructure including gangways, barges, a steel and glass wind screen system—and of ferry operations support spaces—that maintain a raw, industrial character in keeping with the tone and feeling of the historical building. Beyer Blinder Belle provided the overall design vision. [The West Nyack, New York-based marine engineering firm] McLaren Engineering Group designed and engineered the gangways and barges. [New York City-based] FTL Design Engineering Studio designed the canopies covering the barges.”

To comply with a directive from the SHPO, timber was used for the gangways connecting the terminal and the barges, Doliber says. These arched truss timber gangways were designed to be similar to the original gangways used at the Ferry Terminal. The barges, pile anchorage system, and canopies were designed using modern materials for longevity, and to accommodate the many types of ferries operating in the harbor.

“It was a challenge having a modern facility fit in with a historic structure,” says Doliber. “I think the designers did it quite well. They didn’t attempt to make it ultramodern. Instead, they worked with a lot of exposed structural elements that were there in the terminal. The lighting designer [New York City-based Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD], for example, positioned special fixtures to cast shadows of the structure on the plaster of the walls of the arches at the entrances to the slips. The Hoboken Ferry Terminal truly is a modern, functioning facility in a historic building.”

“Through the successful completion of this project, the State of New Jersey has collectively—and effectively—enhanced a key intermodal hub that provides robust transportation services and vital trans-Hudson connections to thousands of New Jersey residents,” says NJ Transit’s chairman, Simpson. “This will further steer our residents to utilize our vast mass transit network, offering our residents additional transportation options while continuing our efforts to foster greater sustainability and safeguard our fine quality of life in the Garden State.”



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