New crossing to bridge gap

Photos courtesy NJDOT/ Work in progress for replacement of Rt. 7/ Wittpenn Bridge over Hackensack River (photos taken several week ago)


By Ron Leir


Recession or no, motorists and commercial truckers who rely on the Wittpenn Bridge over the Hackensack River to get where they need to go are getting some transportation infrastructure relief.

The evidence is shown with a ride over the bridge and a look to the north: A tangle of cranes, timber pilings and work platforms has been assembled for the beginnings of construction of a new span to carry Rt. 7, also known as the Belleville Turnpike, linking Jersey City with Kearny and beyond.

Replacement of the existing bridge is being carried out by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) as a four-phase state contract due for completion by “early 2018,” according to the DOT.

Cost of the job – all four phases – has been projected at close to $500 million. Work started, offi cially, in November 2011.

As explained by DOT, the replacement structure will be a “new vertical lift bridge on a new alignment approximately 200 feet to the north. The new bridge will provide for a minimum vertical clearance of 70 feet in the closed position as compared to 35 feet for the existing lift bridge.”

Or, another way to put it is that boats twice as tall will be able to navigate under the bridge, even when it’s in the normal closed position when vehicles are crossing it.

Back to the DOT: “The increased under clearance will result in fewer instances of bridge openings, thereby improving travel efficiencies for the large volume of freight trucking carriers that use Rt. 7.”

As motorists who regularly traverse this bridge well know, an ill-timed approach to the bridge in an open position currently can easily add 15 minutes or so to the time of the journey, whereas, the new structure will afford an, er, … abridged trip, shall we say?

Ready to proceed?

DOT, again: “Construction of the new bridge will be accomplished in four stages under four separate contracts. … NJDOT began construction on the $64 million Contract 1 (in November) with contractor Conti Enterprises (of South Plainfield) installing multiple 100-plus-foot-long steel reinforced concrete drilled shafts that will support the river piers for the new bridge.

“This initial stage of construction will build the river piers and fender system for the new vertical lift bridge.”

“Multiple barges along with a tug boat are being utilized in the Hackensack River to support the two large cranes, test drill rigs, work platforms and various materials necessary for this work. (Most of the Contract 1 work) will be done in the river and off of the bridge.”

DOT says the existing bridge will continue to operate “while the new structure is built,” even while ongoing maintenance work on the existing bridge proceeds, “with potential closures scheduled over weekend periods, so as to limit the impact to truck traffic during the work week.”

DOT anticipates work associated with Contract 1 “to wrap up by the end of 2013.

” The existing bridge, built with a steel superstructure resting atop reinforced concrete piers, was finished in three years at a cost of $3 million during President Herbert Hoover’s administration and opened on Nov. 5, 1930, with two lanes of traffic in each direction. It is 2,169 feet long, 40 feet wide, has 100 foot clearance in open position.

It’s named for H. Otto Wittpenn, the mayor of Jersey City from 1908 to 1913.

The bridge was last renovated in 1957.

Part of the DOT project calls for the realignment of Fish House Road in South Kearny on the west side of the Hackensack River.

The eastern approach to the Wittpenn Bridge project lies just west of the Charlotte Ave. (Rts. 1&9) traffic circle in Jersey City, perhaps one of the most confusing traffic maneuvers in the region, and at the same time as the bridge improvement job, the DOT is in the midst of a federally-funded $210 million project to build a new ramp system to enable drivers to safely access points of the Rts. 1&9 corridor, including new approach roads to Rt. 7, the Rts. 1&9 Truck route, the Pulaski Skyway, Rt. 139 (Holland Tunnel route), Rt. 1&9 north of the Tonnelle Circle and local streets in Jersey City.

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