D&R Canal Commission Drops Support For Proposed Pedestrian Bridge Off Easton Avenue, Killing Project

A page from the 2013 study commissioned by the state DEP showing the area in which a proposed boardwalk and bridge would be placed. (Source: NJ DEP.)

Update: John Hutchison, the D&R Canal Commission’s executive director, shed more light on the issue.

Hutchison said that at the March 20 commission meeting, it was learned that the new cost estimate for the bridge was $876,000, with a 10 percent contingency.

“Commissioners agreed that in light of the revised cost estimate, that it may be appropriate to suspend consideration of the bridge, and instead direct that the remaining monies dedicated to the project be used for improving pedestrian and cycling access to the canal in Franklin Township and potential parking improvements to the existing park access point and pedestrian bridge at Demott Lane,” Hutchison said in an email.

Original Story: The proposed pedestrian bridge over the Delaware & Raritan Canal at Easton Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard has been killed by the state commission that proposed it, according to a Somerset County spokeswoman.

A meeting that was scheduled for March 21 between Somerset County open space and planning staff and a representative of the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission was canceled at the request of the canal commission, according to a statement from the county engineering division, released by county spokeswoman Linda Van Zandt.

“It is the County’s understanding that the DRCC has chosen not to pursue the project at this time,” the statement read.

Commission vice chairman John Loos said that he suggested on March 20 that the commission abandon the project after updated cost estimates revealed that the project would cost between $875,000 to $965,000.

The bridge was targeted for a spot just to the south of the Somerset Diner and carried a 9-year-old cost projection of $775,000.

A preliminary design shows a wooden walkway starting from Easton Avenue, near the John F. Kennedy Boulevard jughandle, back to the edge of the canal, from which a bridge would emanate.

John Loos, a township resident and co-chairman of the D&R Canal Commission, received support from the Township Council at its March 12 meeting to see if Somerset County would be interested in partnering with the township in paying for the project. That was to be the subject of last week’s cancelled meeting.

Loos said that a bridge was needed at that spot to offer access to the canal for people who live in the area.

Loos told the Council at that meeting that he envisioned the township and county kicking in about $250,000 each for the bridge’s construction. The township money would come from its Open Space Trust Fund. Loos had already won the support of the township’s Open Space Advisory Committee to pursue the idea with the county, although one member, Bob LaCorte, voted against the approval.

Township resident Chris Kelly, a member of the county open space committee, objected to the plan at the Council meeting, saying there are other spots that offer access to the canal towpath.

In March 2013, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the D&R Canal Commission commissioned a study of the area for a 150-foot-long bridge from the engineering firm of Hatch Mott MacDonald. In that study, Hatch Mott gave the DEP and Commission an assessment of four different styles of bridge for the spot: a floating swing span bridge (two moving drawbridges and a floating center span), a retractable bridge, a traditional fixed position bridge and a drawbridge.

The firm did not make any recommendation as to which bridge style should be used, and DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said it did not appear as though any choice had been made.

According to figures supplied by Hajna, the DEP allocated $194,299 for the bridge’s design, and had awarded a $168,234.01 contract to Hatch Mott for the study, $88,336.36 of which has been spent.

There was also an expense of $7,740 that went to the state Treasury Department – Hajna said that may have been for administrative expenses – for a total expenditure to date of $96,076.36, according to the figures.

That leaves a $105,962.67 total balance, comprised of a $79,897.67 balance in Hatch Mott’s contract amount for “future work,” Hajna said, and a $26,065 balance in the overall funding, according to the figures.

At the March 12 Council meeting, Loos told the Council that another access point to the canal towpath has been in the Commission’s Master Plan.

That’s accurate, but the recommendation was not at the spot Loos was proposing.

According to the Commission’s latest Master Plan, another Easton Avenue bridge access was proposed at a spot closer to Landing Lane, in the Freda Marden Common.


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