Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Emergency Action on Bridge

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Emergency Action on Bridge

Article excerpt

Pressure to replenish New Jersey's transportation fund grew yet again Wednesday afternoon, as the state Transportation Department partially closed the busy Route 3 eastbound bridge over the Hackensack River just before rush hour, citing new test results that revealed cracks in a steel beam that supports the span.

The move came as the department said 40 "structurally deficient" bridges in the state will be inspected within a week. And it came the day before Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox was scheduled to hold a news conference highlighting the annual costs of New Jersey's aging infrastructure, which a new report estimates at $2,000 per driver.

The closures, public appearances and stepped-up inspections were all part of an intensifying campaign to focus attention on what officials view as New Jersey's deteriorating infrastructure, as talks heat up about how to bail out the state fund that pays for road, bridge and rail repairs as well as other construction projects. The fund may be empty by July 1, Fox has warned.

The eastbound Route 3 span linking East Rutherford and Secaucus is used by about 75,000 motorists a day and serves as an important connection to the Lincoln Tunnel. About 4 p.m. Wednesday, officials closed the right lane to all traffic and the left lane to heavy trucks. Repair work is expected to last about two weeks, said Steve Schapiro, a department spokesman.

The center two lanes of the four-lane bridge were unaffected, Schapiro said. The closings did not prompt any calls to police, a Secaucus officer said, and no traffic delays were detected by monitoring devices on the bridge.

Inspectors first noticed deteriorating conditions on the bridge in October, Schapiro said, prompting them to increase the frequency of inspections and to order a series of tests to gauge the bridge's safety. On Tuesday, the department received the results showing that cracks had developed in the beam, Schapiro said.

'Structurally deficient'

The bridge is one of 2,574 bridges maintained by the department, 293 of which are deemed "structurally deficient," Schapiro said.

That term is not as simple as it seems. Every bridge has a deck. Most bridges also have a substructure, which holds them up from below, and a superstructure, which supports them from above, Schapiro said. The label "structurally deficient" means that at least one of those pieces needs urgent repairs, usually within 30 days.

"Structurally deficient doesn't mean that it's unsafe," said Schapiro.

In extreme cases, deficient bridges that deteriorate further may be closed. The Amwell Road Bridge in Franklin in Sussex County, for example, was first closed to trucks over 14 tons because it couldn't handle the weight, but truck drivers ignored the warnings and kept using it, causing further deterioration that forced officials to close the bridge entirely last week, Schapiro said. …

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