Bucks County Herald

Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here

It takes a long time to build a bridge



A cofferdam on the Pennsylvania side of the bridge will enable supports to be lowered to bedrock at 75 feet.

Anyone who’s driven I-95 through Bucks and Mercer counties lately can see the construction going on. And drivers along the river roads, Route 29 in New Jersey and 32 in Pennsylvania, can see change all around them.

A new bridge is taking shape to the north – in a long and arduous building process. The obsolete 59-year-old Scudder Falls four-lane bridge will be gone when two side-by-side spans take its place.

There’s no question that a new bridge is needed. The structural design is of the same type as the I-95/Mianus River Bridge that collapsed in Connecticut in 1983. “The commission took steps in the early 1990s to prevent a Mianus-type collapse, but the redundancy measures did not – and could not – add life to the bridge’s road deck, which now has multiple pothole patches and other surface deterioration,” according to the Delaware River Toll Bridge Commission website.

Kevin Skeels, Scudder Falls Bridge Replacement project engineer, spoke at a breakfast meeting for TMA, the Transportation Management Association March 29 at the Northampton Valley Country Club. Municipal officials and engineering groups attended the meeting.

It’s taken years to get to the point of construction, Skeels said, as far back as 1990 for the earliest studies. Then came an environmental study, beginning in 2002, permit applications starting in 2012.

On June 14, 2012, the Federal Highway Administration issued the pivotal Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The determination validated the bridge commission’s extensive environmental documentation (Environmental Assessment and Addendum to the Environmental Assessment).

With that approval, the bridge commission could move on with right-of-way plans and setting priorities for work to prepare for design and construction. One of those priorities was delivery of unearthed archaeological materials from both sides of the river to state museums in Harrisburg and Trenton.

Before the final design phase, which began in early 2015, the commission undertook traffic and revenue studies. So many issues – protection of peregrine falcons, tree clearing, building of noise abatement walls, considerations of crossing two canals, stormwater drainage, safety, siting a maintenance building, and yes, aesthetics – had to be taken into consideration.

The final design for the 4.4-mile project was completed in 2016. The $3.96 million building contract was awarded to Pittsburgh-based Trumbull Corporation in January 2017, the year when actual construction began. It’s continuing according to a schedule, according to the Delaware River Toll Bridge Commission.

Costs will be borne by the users, with no federal or state transportation support for construction. To pay for the new bridge, the commission decided in 2009 to establish cashless tolling – an “all-electronic tolling” (AET) system. A conventional barrier toll plaza will not be built, the commission says. The arrangement will be like the tolling at the new Pennsylvania Turnpike/I-95 Interchange under construction now in Bensalem Township.

“Non-E-ZPass-equipped vehicles passing through the cashless toll system will be subject to video capture by the camera equipment mounted on an overhead gantry; the DRJTBC will send a bill to the vehicle’s registered owner to collect the Toll-by-Plate toll. Tolls for E-ZPass customers will be lower than the rates for Toll-by-Plate customers, which will have higher administrative costs,” according to an official bridge commission release.

Tolling will be in the southbound direction (entering Pennsylvania). Tolls will be charged for traffic crossing from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.

Engineers promise that the new bridge will be safer and more efficient, with traffic management an important part of the design. The existing bridge is classified on the National Bridge Inventory list as “functionally obsolete” because of concerns with capacity, safety deficiencies, shoulders, and poor approach roadway geometry. When it was built, the volume of traffic was considerably lower. That was before today’s heavy commuter traffic, about 58,000 vehicles a day.

The existing bridge’s lack of shoulders and short acceleration lanes create hazards for vehicles entering the bridge. They are high accident areas, Skeels said. On the bridge, stranded vehicles and routine maintenance operations consistently cause travel delays. And the geometry of the interchanges, especially along Route 29 in New Jersey have made for a confusing driving experience – unsafe and difficult for traffic movement.

Safety upgrades will be made at the interchanges at both ends of the bridge, widening of I-95 and construction of shoulders on the bridge crossing to handle breakdowns and emergencies. The two inside shoulder lanes will have the capacity to serve proposed bus and rapid transit routes. There will be a bike and pedestrian walkway on the bridge’s upstream side to connect canal paths on both sides of the river.

A four-story building overlooking the bridge will be built on the Pennsylvania side.

U.S. I-95 will be widened from Yardley-Lamghorne Road, Newtown, to the Taylorsville Road interchange in Lower Makefield, with a travel lane added in each direction, utilizing an existing grass median. The existing eastern southbound off ramp will be removed and it will be combined with the existing western southbound off ramp. Other existing ramps will be retained.

At the Route 29 interchange in New Jersey, traffic signals will be avoided by using roundabouts. The interchange is described as “a folded diamond interchange” with two roundabout intersections at the ramps with I-95. Bypasses for NJ Route 29 northbound and southbound traffic will be retained and improved acceleration and deceleration lanes will be provided on to I-95. A stop sign at the southbound I-95 on-ramp will be eliminated.

The New Jersey scope of the project extends to the County Route 579-Bear Tavern Road Interchange (Exit 2).

Joseph Resta, executive director of the bridge commission, said in a video describing the project, “When completed, this comprehensive project should greatly improve the quality of life for commuters and other drivers by reducing travel times and improving safety.”

The first span, southbound, is expected to open next year and the existing bridge will be in operation until the new second span opens. That opening is projected for 2021. That’s about 30 years from concept to finish.

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