Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bridge Gets No Respect

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bridge Gets No Respect

Article excerpt

During a stroll along the Hackensack River walkway on the day after Christmas, Bob Leafe became intrigued by the geese taking shelter under the Route 4 bridge in Teaneck, so he pulled out his camera and started shooting.

But when he looked closely at his work, Bob realized he had shot something a bit less idyllic than wildlife. His photo, as shown here, depicts what appears to be a vertical gash that extends along one of the giant pillars holding up part of the span that carries more than 100,000 vehicles each day, according to the state Department of Transportation.

"I'm no engineer, but that does NOT look good," he wrote in an email. "Pretty scary," he said later on the phone, adding that he would look for other ways to cross the Hackensack River from Teaneck to his home in Hackensack.

DOT engineers insist the span is safe enough for traffic -- safer certainly than the Route 3 bridge over the same river between East Rutherford and Secaucus, whose left eastbound lane had to be closed last week for at least a month to repair persistent deterioration. Such road conditions rarely attract much attention from Trenton policymakers. But the Route 3 one attracted reporters and photographers to a DOT yard about a half-mile from the bridge, where Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox again made his pitch for a "revenue enhancer."

This term is code for some sort of additional levy that Fox believes is necessary to replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund, which has reached its bonding capacity. But the commissioner again avoided endorsing any hike to the hated 10.5-cent-a-gallon motor-fuels tax, which has always fueled most of the fund.

Instead, he emphasized how quickly a bridge like the Route 3 span can deteriorate.

Back in November, two cracks in the main truss measured 3 inches, he said, but a second inspection this month revealed longer wounds. One crack had doubled in size. But no one in Secaucus saw anything as "scary" as what Bob Leafe saw in Teaneck. Normally an observant bunch, journalists were much too far away to see a 6-inch crack.

But Fox worked with what he had -- sketches showing the span's weak points, a glossary of engineering terms, an inspection time- line. As if describing falling dominoes, he cited a bridge in Dover that was closed last year, and another in Franklin that was shut down before the Route 3 lane was closed on Wednesday. Some 10 percent of New Jersey's more than 6,000 state, county and municipal bridges are structurally deficient, and 40 of them were on a "Priority One" watch list for similar signs of failure, he added.

So far, they're all safe for traffic, but Fox said he couldn't account for the future. So, he has ordered that all the state's bridges be reinspected.

"Wow! I'm sure there are worse bridges than what I saw in Teaneck," said Leafe, when he learned of this assessment. …

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