FROM PANAMA TO KEARNY

KEARNY —

A bridge deck too far?

Well, not quite.

The newfangled orthotropic deck for the new Rt. 7 Wittpenn Bridge has made a circuitous journey to get to the site in South Kearny.

The deck — first of its kind to be deployed in the Garden State — with a thin steel plate and a series of ribs and floor beams and similar to decks on U.S. battleships – was built by Vigor LLC at its facilities in Clackamas, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.

The finished product was shipped out by boat from Washington State on June 6 in five sections with a total weight of nearly 4.9 million pounds.

It entered the first lock of the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean on June 28 and proceeded on a 16-hour trip through the Canal’s six locks before reaching the Caribbean.

From there, it was to traveled north up the Atlantic Coast of the U.S.

The final leg of the journey was up the Hackensack River and the steel deck is arrived at the project site near the Kearny/Jersey City last week.

The deck will be lifted into place this fall once the tower portion of the new bridge is completed.

The new Rt. 7 bridge, a similar vertical-lift span but bigger in scope that is designed to take more traffic — the existing 1930 bridge has an annual average daily traffic of nearly 50,000 vehicles — is rising just north of the existing bridge.

The estimated $480 million project — which includes new approach ramps, a reconfigured approach to Fish House Road and connections to Rts. 1 & 9 — is due to be completed by 2020.

The existing span is to be demolished after its replacement is up.

In place of the old bridge’s two 10-foot-wide lanes in each direction with no median or shoulder, the new bridge will have wider lanes, shoulders and a median barrier, pedestrian and bicycle accommodation.

It will also double the vertical clearance over the Hackensack River, from 35 to 70 feet.

More about the new deck: It has a thin steel plate and a series of ribs and floor beams. Actually, the manufacturing process was developed in Germany in the 1930s and is similar to that used in U.S. battleship decks as well as some types of corrugated cardboard, according to NJDOT.

The five sections of the deck will be assembled at the project site.

There are about 100 orthotropic bridge decks currently in use in the U.S. Among those are the Golden Gate in California, the Verrazano-Narrows upper deck in New York, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington and the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge in California and many movable bridges in Alaska.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.