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Front Page December 28, 2006 

Officials say Rt. 1 bridge project lacks foresight
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — Residents attending an informal workshop regarding the replacement of the Route 1 bridge between Ryders Lane and Milltown Road were upset to learn the design process is in its final phases.

Although an information session was held on Dec. 7 at the municipal building to discuss the proposed bridge reconstruction and adjacent road improvements around DeVry University and SilverLine Windows, concerns were voiced regarding pedestrian safety, roadway design and railroad track elimination.

The $28 million Federal Highway Administration project, $1.6 million of which was acquired by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12), focuses on replacing the functionally obsolete bridge, improving sight distance and eliminating the road curves beneath it. This will allow the connection of College Farm Road to the access driveways of local property owners. A pedestrian and bike lane along the six-foot-wide shoulder is also anticipated.

“We are looking at a bridge that is very old. It is difficult to try to fix it. At other stages it was looked into … but once our construction team, once they declared it structurally obsolete, that means you have to replace it,” DOT project manager Joshua Idowu said.

The bridge is over 75 years old and at its original construction, bridges had only a 50-year life span. Idowu said there is already concrete falling, so it would be risky to try to fix the bridge instead of completely replacing it. Also, the state would only mandate certain funds, so any future repairs to a deteriorating bridge would not be covered.

“It takes a long time to look at any engineering project and takes a long time to get it into a construction project. We are looking at something that is deteriorating. If we sit back and relax and the bridge falls, what do we do? We need to take action,” Idowu said.

However, the elimination of the railroad tracks, which were owned by Conrail until they signed an abandonment agreement last year, would make any future transportation hubs obsolete. Acquiring tracks once they are removed is hard to come by in the state.

“At this stage we are not going to modify the bridge,” Idowu said. “We looked at the industries the railroad was supplying and those industries as far as we know don’t need the railroad.”

He said that in speaking with township officials, no one expressed a desire to maintain the existing rail line, and that once the bridge is constructed it will be too low to allow for tracks to be replaced anyway.

However, an issue of Smart Growth was brought forth by Councilman Ralph Andrews and Mark Hommer, the chairman of the Environmental Commission. They believe that new community plans need to take into consideration and integrate concepts which combat sprawl. The designs should promote compact, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly land-use patterns, they said.

They said that a light rail system with a connection to New Brunswick or Franklin could be possible, and safer pedestrian and bicycle paths are a necessity. Especially with the neighboring DeVry and Rutgers University campuses, Permacel site and Bristol-Myers Squibb, walking and jogging trails would be appropriate for students as well as adults going to school or work.

“Is this concept of Smart Growth complete rhetoric? … In this township we try to think ahead. It’s very frustrating to do this over many, many years. When is this going to be implemented?” Hommer asked. “We are desperately trying to move ahead in North Brunswick with this transit village [on the Johnson & Johnson property farther down Route 1] and with our master plan … but then you come in and try to build something like this and it does not seem to be in consistency with the state’s own initiatives.”

Idowu responded by saying that because of the advanced stage of design, any comments or inquiries could be directed to him in writing at the DOT.

Initial plans for this reconstruction project began in the mid-1990s. The abandonment decision by Conrail took several years because of their investigation of the futility of the tracks. Within those years, DOT met with public officials in North Brunswick to discuss their desires for the project. However, Milltown and New Brunswick representatives were not spoken to directly but instead were invited to come to information sessions.

Right-of-way acquisition will begin this winter and could take up to 12 months to complete. Afterward, the job can be advertised and bids are expected by January 2008. Construction could begin in March of 2008 and be completed by the end of 2009.

During the construction period, three lanes will be maintained in both directions on Route 1: two highway lanes and one detour lane. The bridge itself will be reconstructed in two stages, maintaining two lanes in each direction. Traffic will still flow under the bridge during construction to provide access to both Route 1 north and south.

“Based on traffic patterns during the peak hours there will be a little traffic buildup, but it will not be much different than it is now. That’s why we will try to maintain three lanes open,” Idowu said.

The only inconvenience should be that construction zone speed limits are lower than normal highway limits, thus causing some residual delays.

In regard to cultural concerns, the adjacent New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station College Farm Historic District, the National Musical String Factory and the Raritan River Railroad Historic District will not be affected, based on a Cultural Resources investigation.

“This project is a blessing to the township of North Brunswick because when everything is done, it is going to create a lot of improvements to the township,” Idowu said. “We’re lucky to have the funding to execute this job.”

Idowu can be reached at the Division of Project Management, New Jersey Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 600, Trenton 08625-0600.

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