Township Council Green-Lights Pursuit Of Deal With County For D&R Towpath Bridge

John Loos of the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission speaks to the Township Council March 12 about a pedestrian bridge to the D&R Canal towpath.

The Township Council wants to know more about a proposed $500,000 pedestrian bridge to the Delaware & Raritan Canal towpath near Easton Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

The Council voted on a motion to give township resident John Loos – a member of the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission – the authority to see whether Somerset County would be interested in partnering on the project  with the township.

The motion was made and voted upon during the “council discussion” portion of the meeting, despite not appearing in the meeting’s agenda. Council discussions come after the meeting’s public comment portion.

Loos said when he brought the proposal to the township’s Open Space Advisory Committee, the committee suggested that the county be brought in to split the cost so the township would not have to foot the entire bill.

“If the township could spend a quarter-million dollars and the county could do likewise, that would be great,” Loos said. The township’s portion would most likely come from its Open Space Trust Fund account.

The bridge would be located behind and to the right of the Somerset Diner on Easton Avenue. Loos said the diner’s owner was donating a sliver of land to accommodate the bridge, as well as two parking spaces in his lot.

“It’s kind of a win-win situation for businesses in that area because people who use the canal are going to come out, whether it’s Dunkin’ Donuts or the diner, a lot of people will stop and get a sandwich or something like that,” he said.

Loos said the bridge is needed to give people who use the canal towpath another point of entry.

“You’re really talking about a population from the City of New Brunswick all the way up to DeMott Lane not having adequate access to the canal towpath,” he said. “That area is probably the most populated area in Franklin Township … It is the opinion of the canal commission that we do need another bridge there.”

He said the commission’s master plan calls for another bridge to access the towpath.

Township resident Chris Kelly, a member of the Somerset County Open Space Advisory Committee, questioned whether a bridge was needed there. He said access to the towpath could be gained off of Landing Lane.

Loos said that access area is unsafe.

“You take your life into your hands if you want to drive down into that area,” he said.

Loos said that the project is budgeted at $775,000, and that $175,000 has already been spent, with another $100,000 in reserve. That initial $275,000 came via a donation from PSE&G, Loos said.

“If we are not able to raise the money elsewhere, I’ve been asked by the assistant commissioner of the (Department of Environmental Protection) that we abandon this project and use the $100,000 on another project,” Loos said.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said the project also entails building a boardwalk from Easton Avenue to the land behind the diner where the bridge would be located.

“This has been a project that has been on our agenda for many years,” Loos said. “We’re at the point where if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose it.”

Vornlocker noted that the cost estimate is at least nine years old, and asked if Loos was confident that it was still accurate.

Loos said the original estimate included a 25 percent contingency fee, but added that engineers are taking another look at it to make sure the price is accurate.

“I will have that number in the near future,” he said.

Township Councilman Ted Chase said access to the towpath is needed in that area of town. He said that Open Space money is usually used in less-developed parts of Franklin.

“I think this would answer a need we often have,” he said. “This would be something that would make the canal towpath more accessible to the most densely populated part of the township.”

“Having a bridge there will substantially increase the accessibility of the canal,” he said. “People from Franklin Greens can walk directly to the canal there, where they might not walk up to the DeMott Lane access. I hope the county will also put in some money. I would certainly support at least putting in $250,000 toward this.”


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