Town Officials To Christie: Fix Route 518 Bridge; Christie To Town Officials: No

Mayors Bridge Protest - 1

Township Mayor Phillip Kramer, Millstone Mayor Ray Heck, Rocky Hill Mayor Jeff Donahue and township Deputy Mayor Ted Chase at the Route 518 bridge protest.

Saying “enough is enough,” officials from the township and surrounding towns went public the morning of Aug. 19 in their effort to restore funding for the replacement of the Route 518 bridge at Canal Road.

But that rush-hour protest, as well as other bridge-related lobbying efforts directed at Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, has so far been fruitless.

Work on the bridge spanning the Delaware & Raritan Canal 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.

Protests and lobbying by the township, county and other local officials notwithstanding, “the shutdown initiated by Executive Order 210 remains in effect and no projects are set to re-start,” state Department of Transportation spokesman Stephen Schapiro said in an emailed statement.

The Rt. 518 project was one of several township projects affected by the work stoppage.

The $2.8 million bridge replacement project began on June 1. Full closure of the bridge occurred on July 6, even though it was known that work was going to stop due to Christie’s Executive Order two days later. The project was supposed to have been finished by the end of August.

The Township Council in July formally asked the Christie administration to release money so that work on the bridge could resume.

When that went nowhere, Mayor Phillip Kramer decided more direct action was needed. He organized the protest, bringing in other local officials.

“Enough is enough,” Kramer said at the protest. “The people have waited long enough to have the bridge opened. It’s interfering with commuting, but it’s also a public safety hazard in that it’s blocking our first responders and our mutual aid back and forth.”

Kramer was joined at the protest by Deputy Mayor Ted Chase; Millstone Mayor Ray Heck; Rocky Hill Mayor Jeff Donahue; Darrin Russo, the Democratic candidate for Somerset County Sheriff; Maria Rodrigues, the Democratic candidate for Somerset County Freeholders and Ron Jordan, the township Democratic Party chairman.

The protestors held up a large banner that read, “Christie Fix This Bridge.” They were met with waves and honks from drivers passing by. Some stopped to ask what they could do to help the effort.

Kramer said the bridge closure affects Rocky Hill residents’ ability to get to local hospitals, such as Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, and also township residents wen they try to get to “work and resources across the river.”

Mayor Heck said it’s a mistake to look at the closure as affecting only one bridge.

“This bridge affects Somerset, Mercer and Middlesex counties,” he said.

“By changing the traffic plans, the minor flooding we had just a couple weeks ago, shutting down Griggstown Road and shutting down temporarily Blackwells Mills, backed traffic up equal to what Hurricane Irene gave us back a few years ago, because of the fact that the bridges were closed,” he said.

Heck, who is a member of the Millstone Valley Volunteer Fire Department, said the closure could affect the ability of fire fighters to respond quickly – or at all – to an area fire.

“God forbid there’s a fire or vehicular accident,” he said. “Time is of the essence when you’re showing up to an emergency scene.”

Chase, who lives within walking distance of the bridge, said he and his neighbors regularly use the bridge to get to Montgomery and Rocky Hill for shopping and other chores.

Chase reiterated concern about first responders being able to quickly respond to emergencies.

“Normally, if I had a heart attack, it would be the Rocky Hill First Aid Squad that would come and take me to the hospital,” he said. “They can’t get there now. If they have to take somebody from Rocky Hill to the hospital, they have to deal with the increased traffic on River Road, going toward Kingston.”

“A couple of times I’ve had reason to go north, aiming to go on River Road on the Montgomery side at rush hour, and the bridge at Griggstown was backed up onto Canal Road in both directions,” Chase said. “You couldn’t go through on Canal Road, even if you didn’t want go across the bridge. And it was equally as backed up on the River Road side.”

The DOT’s Schapiro said the department is “aware of the concerns and has been in communication with local officials.”

“Work on this bridge began before the TTF shutdown and it is not safe for traffic,” Schapiro said in an email. “This bridge project and closure was developed before the TTF shutdown and the bridge would have been closed and traffic detoured whether or not TTF-funded projects were shutdown.”

Schapiro said the DOT worked out a detour route with local officials before the project began.

“The signed detour for CR 518 utilizes county and state roads and does not include directing motorists to the single-lane bridge in Griggstown, as some news reports have implied,” Schapiro wrote. “Motorists who have chosen to use the Griggstown Bridge have done so on their own and are not following the NJDOT detour for the project.”

The posted detour route can be seen here.


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