New bridge requires big bucks

Wikipedia On average, nearly 13,000 vehicles cross Clay St. Bridge , linking East Newark and Newark, each day.
On average, nearly 13,000 vehicles cross Clay St. Bridge , linking East Newark and Newark, each day.


Is a replacement for the Clay St. Bridge over the Passaic River a bridge too far?

Given that the projected price tag for a new structure stands at $70 million, coupled with the precarious state of federal transportation funding, expectations are low.

The Federal Highway Administration has proposed earmarking about $5 billion a year over the next six years to fix bridges and roads that are “deficient” and “pose a safety risk.” But there are no assurances that will happen.

Meanwhile, N.J. Department of Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox has called for increasing the gas tax to help replenish the depleted state transportation infrastructure trust fund but Gov. Chris Christie has resisted.

Clay St. Bridge, built in 1908 and rehabilitated five times between 1942 and 1997, has reached a point where, according to Hudson County Assistant Engineer Joseph Glenbocki, it is “functionally obsolete” and replacement parts “are no longer available.”

Bruce Riegel, of Hardesty & Hanover, consulting engineers on the bridge project, added that its condition is such that, “routine maintenance can no longer address the deficiencies.”

Unfortunately, the Clay St. span is not unique in that respect. In a report released earlier this year, the Federal Highway Administration listed 35% of the more than 6,000 bridges in New Jersey as needing repairs or unsafe. Nation-wide, nearly one of every five bridges is deemed deficient.

Last week, the state DOT, in concert with state and county agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard, held a public information session to assess the future status of the Clay St. Bridge, as the first step in a $500,000 federally funded “Local Concept Development Study” aimed at possible improvements.

The bridge, which nearly 13,000 vehicles use daily to cross between East Newark and Newark, has only an 8-foot clearance for river traffic, Riegel said, so boats must give four hours’ notice to pass under and the bridge takes 10 minutes to swing open but sometimes it jams while closing.

In recent years, commercial marine traffic has been pretty much limited to dredging barges but, between January and March 2015, there were no requested openings, Riegel said.

According to the LCDS, the bridge’s superstructure is “in poor condition with steel truss members and the girders and floor beams in the swing span having localized advanced material loss. The bridge may soon need to be load posted (weight restriction and limitation of vehicles), due to advancing deterioration of steel support members. The substructure is in fair condition. There is severe rusting and local section loss of steel stringers supporting the sidewalk in the swing span. The channel and channel protection are in poor condition with structural undermining of the northwest embankment. The electrical system is in overall fair condition with many obsolete components (for example, manually operated barrier gates).”

Clay St. Bridge would need $6 million in “remedial repairs” just to continue functioning as is.

The absence of roadway shoulders, coupled with close proximity to intersections at either approach, has contributed to 40 vehicular accidents between 2011 and 2013, at Clay St. and Passaic Ave., mostly rear-enders. The existing truss bridge cannot be widened.

After reviewing various design scenarios, Riegel said the “preferred alternative” plan called for a new 68-footwide bascule, one- or two-leaf drawbridge, with a 6-footwide sidewalk, that would accommodate two eastbound lanes and one westbound lane. Plans call for acquisition of right-of-way to permit a dedicated turning lane from Passaic Ave. onto the bridge.

The cost of the replacement bridge is pegged at about $70 million: $57.4 million for the bridge structure, $12.6 million for the roadway and an additional cost for right-of-way acquisition.

Riegel said it would likely take “three to four years to get shovel-ready” and an additional “2 1/2 to three years” to complete construction. The existing span would close to allow for construction and as work progressed, the vehicles that currently use Clay St. Bridge would be diverted to the swing-span Bridge St. Bridge, which was rehabilitated in 1981, and/or the vertical-lift Stickel/Rt. 280 Bridge, which was extensively repaired between 2006 and 2009.

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