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One in four New Jersey bridges is in poor condition or inadequate to handle modern traffic loads, according to an analysis of National Bridge Inventory data.
Of almost 6,600 bridges included in the 2012 inventory, 9.3 percent were rated structurally deficient, meaning they are in deteriorated condition or the waterway opening under the bridge is insufficient. Another 16.3 percent are considered functionally obsolete, indicating they do not meet current standards for lane and shoulder widths or vertical clearances or they occasionally flood. These ratings do not mean the bridges are unsafe, according to federal highway officials, but that they need rehabilitation, repair or replacement.
The condition of the state’s bridges was one of several infrastructure needs highlighted by the
Facing Our Future report issued earlier this week. According to an open letter at the beginning of the report, “Year after year, administration after administration, New Jersey has deferred investment in its utilities systems, roads and bridges, public transportation and water supply systems – and those systems have decayed.”
One glaring example is the Pulaski Skyway in Hudson and Essex counties. Opened almost 80 years ago, the bridge carries 67,000 vehicles a day and has a sufficiency rating, a measure of structural adequacy, safety, serviceability, functionality and public use, of only 2 percent out of 100. It needs extensive repairs due to deterioration and needs to be upgraded because its lanes are too narrow and it has no shoulders.
The state Department of Transportation and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are expecting to spend $1 billion on repairing the 3.5-mile long roadway, which includes two 550-foot-long, 135-foot-high bridges over the Hackensack and Passaic rivers. The extensive work will force the closure of the skyway for up to two years, beginning next year, which is expected to cause massive traffic tie-ups on alternate routes.
The NBI includes cost estimates of more than $6 billion for repairing or replacing 2,280 bridges, but some of those cost estimates date back several years and actual costs are likely to be higher today. For instance, while the Pulaski Skyway work is expected to total $1 billion, the work estimate in the database for the two bridges was $811 million as of 2010.
Source: NJ Spotlight analysis of date from National Bridge Inventory
A lack of funding is the biggest reason why the bridges and the rest of the state’s transportation network is out-of-date, according to Facing Our Future. The report states, “The gap between what is needed to invest in New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure – for an efficient, 21st century transportation network – and the amount we have been spending and continue to spend on the network is a minimum of $1 billion to $2 billion a year.”
DOT spokesman Joseph Dee said the agency is spending money on improvements to meet its goals. DOT’s proposed 2014 fiscal year capital program, unveiled earlier this month, calls for spending $3.8 billion, including about $1.6 billion in state funds – roughly half of that from the sale of bonds. About two thirds of the capital budget would fund safety improvements and upgrades to ease congestion on roads and bridges, officials said.
“The investment levels for roads and bridges under the Christie administration have us on track to make significant improvements and to reach long-term benchmarks we have set for ourselves,” he said.
DOT proposes spending about $787 million for bridge improvements, an increase of $97 million over the prior year, which puts the department on a course toward having 94 percent of NJDOT-owned bridges and bridge deck surface area in acceptable condition by 2021. Officials said that currently 90 percent of the spans included in the NJDOT inventory of 2,684 bridges are in acceptable condition. The department anticipates cutting the number of structurally deficient bridges in half, to about 160 bridges, by 2021.
Almost 50 percent of the 638 bridges labeled structurally deficient are owned by a state agency or state toll authority. About 5 percent of those have sufficiency ratings of less than 10 percent, with the lowest being a rating of 1 percent for the Court Street bridge over the Hackensack River in Hackensack. Eighteen of these bridges carry at least 100,000 vehicles a day, with the busiest being the Route 76 bridge over the former Conrail tracks in Gloucester City, with nearly 192,000 vehicles crossing it daily.
New Jersey also has 1,584 bridges rated functionally obsolete. Two of those – the north- and southbound Garden State Parkway spans over Route 9 in Sayreville, south of the Raritan Toll plaza — had sufficiency ratings of only 7 percent.
New Jersey’s bridges have an average age of 51 years, according to the database. Of those deemed structurally deficient, 127 are more than 100 years old, with two of those – a Route 206 bridge over Stony Brook and a bridge on Old Route 27 over the Millstone River in Princeton – dating to the 1790s.