Updated: Somerset County Freeholders Will Fund Completion Of Route 518 Bridge; Were Democrats Told?

Mayors Bridge Protest - 1

Local Democratic Mayors, including (l. to r.)Township Mayor Phillip Kramer, Millstone Mayor Ray Heck and Rocky Hill Mayor Jeff Donahue, seem to have been left out of a Somerset County Freeholder Board announcement that the county will provide stopgap funding to finish the Route 518 bridge work. The there mayors are pictured with township Deputy Mayor Ted Chase during an August rush-hour protest.

Update: Township Mayor Phil Kramer said he was not informed of the deal, and that he heard about it through friends after the Township Council meeting.

“As far as not being included in the initial statement I couldn’t care less,” he said in an email. “My goal is to get the bridge fixed and nothing else.”

“Now however, is not the time to reduce our vigilance,” Kramer wrote. “We need to know the date of when construction will begin and completed. The ultimate question is when will this inconvenience to our residence and threat to public safety be over once and for all.”

Deputy Mayor Ted Chase said that he heard about the deal from the citizens’ group, Citizens to Preserve Griggstown.

“While the action is great, their handling of it seems petty and political,” Chase wrote own an email. “I note that it is contingent on a ‘formal agreement’ with the Dept. of Transportation; I hope that this happens quickly. I worry that the governor will instruct DoT not to agree.”

State DOT spokesman Steve Schapiro said that the department “is in the early stages of developing a Memorandum of Understanding and the details have yet to be finalized. The goal is to resume construction as expeditiously as possible once the MOU is finalized.”

Original Story: Somerset County Freeholders announced on Sept. 13 that they would provide stopgap funding for the completion of the Route 518 bridge between the township and Rocky Hill.

It’s not clear whether the Freeholders notified township officials of their decision. The Township Council on Sept. 13 passed a resolution calling on Gov. Chris Christie to deem the bridge work as “essential,” and restore its funding.

There was no mention made of the county’s announcement at the council meeting.

The Freeholders’ announcement said that the board had reached an agreement on the funding with the state Department of Transportation, in collaboration with state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-16) and state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16).

Unde the deal, the county will front the more than $2 million needed to finish the project out of the county’s capital projects budget.

The deal will not cost Somerset County taxpayers anything, according to the Freeholders’ statement.

The work will resume once a formal memorandum of understanding is reached, Freeholder Director Patricia Walsh said in the statement. No date was given.

Work on the bridge spanning the Delaware & Raritan Canal began on July 6 and was stopped on July 8 as part of Gov. Christie’s Executive Order 210, which froze funding for all state Transportation Trust Fund-funded road construction projects not deemed as essential. Christie signed the order on June 30, after the state Legislature failed to enact a gasoline tax to re-fund the TTF.

The Sept. 13 statement from the all-Republican Freeholder board did not include statements from any of the three Democratic mayors of towns directly affected by the shutdown of construction on the bridge – township Mayor Phillip Kramer, Millstone Mayor Ray Heck and Rocky Hill Mayor Jeff Donahue. The three mayors, led by Kramer, staged a protest in August designed to put pressure on Gov. Christie to restore funding for the bridge project.

Christie, however, was not moved by the protest. During an Aug. 29 press conference, Christie said that he “could (sic) care less about what Democrat mayors think about a bridge.”

In the Freeholders’ statement, Freeholder Director Patricia Walsh, who is running for re-election, said, “I am happy to report on behalf of the Freeholder Board that, with the help of Senator Kip Bateman and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, we were able to successfully resolve the funding issues that would allow this critical project to move forward,” she said. “From a health, safety and convenience standpoint, this is a win for Somerset County residents.”


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