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Westfield Inspection Station to Remain Open Until New Facilities Are Available to Public

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader 97aug28

The Westfield Motor Vehicle Inspection Station on South Avenue and 10 other stations slated to be closed will remain operational until new, more modernized stations have been built nearby to replace them, according to a state official.

The current facilities will remain open until new stations, possibly private ones, are opened as part of the state’s Enhanced Inspection and Maintenance Program. The state has yet to determine if inspection stations will be privatized.

Just last week the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced that it was expanding the time period to accept bids from firms to upgrade the state’s automobile emissions inspection system at centralized facilities, and to develop a computer network linking the state emissions inspection system with privately run inspection sites to conduct emissions inspections.

The bids are part of the state’s new Enhanced Motor Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Program, unveiled in March, to comply with the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The DMV had hoped to issue contract awards this past spring. That deadline, however, had to be extended after a bid by Dynamometer Car Inspection of Glen Rock, Bergen County, was rejected.

To design, build, operate and maintain the inspection facilities, the firm bid $26.93 million for capital components and another $38.56 million for operating costs. To design and build the facilities, the firm bid $33.29 million.

New Jersey State Treasurer James A. DiEleuterio said the firm’s bid "fails to meet the state’s objectives" established for bid proposals.

The decision to close the inspection stations was decided by the DMV, a division of the State Department of Transportation (DOT), during the planning stage of the enhanced program.

Under the Clean Air Act, New Jersey and several other states have been mandated to develop a motor vehicle inspection program as a method of enhancing air quality, according to DMV Director C. Richard Kamin.

Mr. Kamin made his comments in a written response to a letter by former Westfield Mayor Bud Boothe.

Mr. Boothe said he believes the closing of the Westfield station and the decision by the state agency not to issue initial private inspection center licenses will "make life very unpleasant" for Westfielders and other residents in the vicinity who use the facility.

He told The Leader that the Westfield station is one of the few which offers a parking lot which in effect enables cars waiting on line to shut off their engines rather than simply waiting on a continuous line with the engines idling. This, he said, increases air pollution while also destroying the catalytic converters in the vehicles.

Mr. Boothe has urged the DMV to keep the Westfield station in operation until at least private garages are added to the program.

He also has asked the agency to investigate whether the station can be upgraded to include the new equipment needed to meet stricter air quality standards. In addition, he said the second lane should be enclosed. That lane is currently only partly sheltered.

If the Westfield station closes, as planned, the alternatives would force motorists to have their vehicles inspected at inspection stations in Rahway or Newark, or to use private garages which charge a fee, unless, of course, a new facility opens in the area.

Another problem in the mix is that service stations not currently licensed by the DMV, or those stations under new ownership, are not being issued licenses at this time.

The DMV, however, has kept the addresses of those stations seeking inspection station licenses on file. Mr. Kamin said when the DMV begins accepting applications again these stations will be notified.

Mr. Boothe has asked the DMV to investigate whether the town’s facility could be rehabilitated with the required new equipment and upgraded, including enclosing the remaining area for the second lane of vehicles. That area is only partly sheltered.

Mr. Kamin has said the Division’s new program will "ensure that the average driving time from home or work to any station will not exceed 15 minutes for at least 90 percent of registered motor vehicle owners.

"Every consideration will be given to the needs of regional users while phasing in the new stations," he said.

In addition to the Westfield station, inspection facilities in Somerville and Plainfield are slated to be shut down. The state currently operates 35 inspection stations.

In an interview with The Courier-News, Department of Transportation spokesman John Graf said the Westfield station has "stacking and congestion problems." The station has been in business for over 40 years.

Under the state plan, new emissions testing would be included for vehicles while the inspection cycle switches from annually to every two years, according to newspaper accounts.

If inspection stations are in fact privatized, it would follow a similar state action in July of 1995 when two dozen Division of Motor Vehicle agencies were privatized.

When reached yesterday by The Leader, Mr. Graf said there has been no changes in the enhanced program.

The DOT began seeking bids in March from companies on two different scenarios. In the first scenario, a contractor would design, build and maintain the inspection facilities. Under the second scenario, a contractor would design and maintain them. In the second scenario, a contractor would be asked to operate up to 24 of the new facilities. Most of the state’s current 35 inspection centers will be expanded to include lanes with the new emission-testing equipment.

Mr. DiEleuterio said his office plans to have the first phase of the new testing facilities project in operation by November 15 and thus new requests for bids will be advertised "as soon as possible."

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