By Brenda Flanagan
“If one critical member of the bridge fails, the bridge or a section of it could collapse,” said NJDOT Commissioner Jamie Fox.
That’s why motorists eastbound on Route 3 over the Hackensack River suddenly found traffic restricted along the bridge’s two outside lanes, says New Jersey’s Department of Transportation commissioner. State inspectors found two cracks inside the steel beams that support the roadway, cracks that recent ultrasonic tests showed had gotten larger.
“That has doubled since October, that’s what scared us when we saw the review. An emergency repair is being designed and is expected to be completed, as I said, within two weeks,” said Fox.
Throughout the day, workers up on catwalks inspected the bridge supports.
“You’re more concerned when you see something that’s supporting the traffic having a crack in it. And that’s what I have up here. And not only that, that part of the bridge is in tension. It wants to pull away. And when you have a crack that’s going in a perpendicular direction to the beam itself — common sense, you don’t have to be an engineer to say that could be trouble, that’s not good,” said NJDOT Assistant Commissioner Richard Hammer.
Meanwhile, state DOT engineers will spend the next week conducting emergency inspections of New Jersey’s worst bridges — the 40 so-called “Priority Ones” — structurally deficient spans that can no longer support traffic loads they were originally designed to bear. New Jersey’s DOT already closed two local bridges.
“I am not afraid and the department is not afraid to shut down a bridge or a road we believe is unsafe,” Fox said.
The commissioner claims the recent bridge collapse in Cincinnati spurred these sudden emergency inspections but used the scene as a platform to promote raising revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund.
“I think the public has to be brought into this process as to why we need additional revenue. We have hit a brick wall. We are running out of money. This is different than previous years because we have, after July 1, there is no money,” Fox said.
No money for local or county fixes, either, Fox says. He’s open to any dedicated revenue source — whether raising fees, tolls or the gas tax. Polls show New Jerseyans oppose gas tax increases, but a study released today by a national transportation organization shows, while a 5-cent-a-gallon increase might cost the average New Jersey motorist $50 to $60 a year, they’re spending $605 driving over bad roads, $861 sitting in traffic and $485 paying for traffic crashes — almost two grand.
“They’re wasting nearly $2,000 a year by not having road conditions taken care of, or having congestion managed better, through created capacity or even transit improvements,” said Trip Executive Director Will Wilkins.
“These projects are investments that are worthy of our dollars — of tax dollars — because it leads to business, economic development and more importantly quality of life,” said Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Kirkos.
The commissioner’s PR gambit here is — if potholes, bad public transit and traffic jams don’t motivate New Jersey motorists to raise the gas tax and rescue the Transportation Trust Fund, then perhaps broken bridges will.