By Ron Leir
Lawmakers from all levels of government, led by State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney, assembled for a press conference on the banks of the Passaic River Aug. 12 to declare their support for a replacement for the 109-year-old DeJessa Memorial Bridge that links Lyndhurst and Nutley.
To that end, the counties of Bergen and Essex will be applying jointly to the N.J. Transportation Planning Authority for an endorsement to undertake the project together with the Federal Highway Administration.
Applications for the “concept development phase” of the authority’s transportationrelated Local Capital Projects Delivery Program are due to the NJTPA by Sept. 12 for the next funding cycle’s consideration, according to authority spokesman David Behrund.
That program provides federal funding for projects led by counties in the region, Behrund said. After technical review of proposals, NJTPA’s Board of Trustees will vote to allocate a total of $2.5 million in funding for successful applicants in January 2015.
President Obama has signed a bill that provides nearly $11 billion to fund bridge and highway repairs over the next 10 months.
Cost for a new bridge – bigger, wider, stronger – is tentatively pegged at $15 million but Bergen County Public Works Director Joe Crifasi, who is helping draft the application, said: “There are estimates it could go as high as $30 million to $40 million.”
While the experts may differ on how much would be spent – if the application is successful – the legislators all agree that the existing two-lane bridge, at Kingsland and Riverside Aves., has got to go because it can’t adequately handle the current volume of traffic: some 40,000 vehicles cross it daily and about half that number travel Riverside, making for slow-going at peak hours at that poorly signalized intersection.
Adding to the snarls is a traffic signal at the Rt. 21 North ramp on the Nutley side of the bridge which is out of sync with the light at the intersection. Construction along Rt. 3 causing diversion of traffic to the bridge has also contributed to tie-ups.
The bridge, a swing span, lifts and spins to the center of the river to let boats pass through, but its ancient mechanical system “precludes us from opening it efficiently,” Crifasi said. Bergen and Essex have shared an annual maintenance cost on the bridge at between $100,000 and $200,000, he said.
In a letter to the NJTPA, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat representing the 9th Congressional District, characterized the DeJessa bridge as “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. … Furthermore, the traffic at the intersections surrounding the bridge is unbearable and is creating economic consequences for daily commuters as well as a number of local business establishments.”
One of those business owners is Nutley Mayor Alphonse Petracco, who, with his brother, in April, opened the Riva Blue restaurant-lounge just off the bridge in Lyndhurst. Bridge traffic delay “is the biggest complaint we get in Nutley,” the mayor said at last Tuesday’s event. “It’s time to act before there’s a serious accident.”
Those conditions make it clear, Pascrell wrote, that “a two-lane bridge built in 1905 cannot possibly meet the needs of the modern day.”
In the meantime, Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso said he’s “taken the lead” to get Bergen County to redesign and widen the Kingsland/ Riverside intersection that will take out the traffic island, provide new turning lanes and improved signalization, along with a new Rt. 21 ramp. JC Improvement & Construction Corp. of Bloomfield has been contracted to do the job for $856,000 and Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan said the contract calls for a 180-day completion. It took Lyndhurst several years to acquire privately-owned easements needed to do the work. Also, PSE&G will be relocating several utility poles.
But the DeJessa bridge is only one example of what Sweeney – an ironworker by trade — labeled as “the crisis in the state with crumbling infrastructure” at a time when the Transportation Trust Fund “is broke.” So he said he’s campaigning “to refund the Trust.” Otherwise, he wondered: “What business is going to move to New Jersey when there’s no Transportation Trust Fund?”