PRINCETON: Mayor pushing state for bridge replacement project money

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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Mayor Liz Lempert is pressing the Christie administration to make money available so Mercer County can finish a bridge replacement project along a detour route for when Route 206 is closed for work on two bridges later this year.
She said Monday that her aim is to avoid delays to the Route 206 project — involving the state Department of Transportation replacing one bridge and repairing the oldest bridge in New Jersey, over the Stony Brook, that dates to 1792.
That work cannot start, however, until a bridge replacement on Carter Road in Lawrence is completed, given that it is a detour for Route 206. Carter Road was due to be finished by Aug. 29, with work on Route 206 starting right thereafter, she told reporters at her press conference.
But the Carter Road project was stopped as a casualty of state lawmakers failing to agree on how to replenish the depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which provides money for road and other projects around the state. Gov. Chris Christie ordered hundreds of projects shut down, with state officials taking a week to prioritize what gets done using the limited amount of money left in the fund.
Mayor Lempert said she wants an exemption to the work stoppage for Carter Road given the implications to Princeton and the region. She has contacted a bipartisan group of state legislators who represent Princeton and Lawrence to make the case before the state.
“We’re pushing very seriously for the work on Carter Road to be resumed and obviously for the work on the (Route) 206 bridges to proceed as well,” she said. “So what we’re saying is that there needs to be an exemption made for Carter Road and the work on Carter Road needs to be resumed immediately so that it doesn’t hold up the schedule on the bridges.”
State Assemblywoman Liz Muoio (D-15), who also works for Mercer County, said Tuesday that she would urge state officials to exempt the Carter Road project.
“The Carter Road bridge project should clearly be exempted from the shutdown order because of the domino effect its delay will have on the replacement of the Route 206 bridges,” she said. “Those bridges are amongst the oldest in the state and are currently dependent on temporary repairs not designed for winter use – but work cannot begin on them until Carter Road is reopened.”
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said by phone Monday that the state Department of Transportation is “acutely aware” of the implications that Carter Road has for Route 206. He said the Carter Road project is “pretty close to being finished.”
“The Route 206 Bridges over Stony Brook project is being assessed,” said DOT spokesman Steve Schapiro by email on Monday. “If the Carter Road Bridge project is not complete by the time the Route 206 Stony Brook Bridge goes to construction, an alternate car detour would be develop(ed). Currently there is a truck detour in place for Route 206 that will remain in place during construction.”
Lawmakers had rejected raising the state gas tax by 23 cents to put those revenues to the Trust Fund.
“The Assembly passed legislation to address the TTF on June 28th and stands ready to work with the Senate and the Governor to come to agreement on a proactive plan that will ensure our transportation infrastructure finally has the long term financial support it desperately needs,” Ms. Muoio said.
Mayor Lempert has favored raising the gas tax, and predicted that lawmakers will reach a deal.
“My sense is that by the time they actually get to the work on the 206 bridges, that Trenton will have figured out some sort of compromise and to have figured out some sort of funding for the (Transportation Trust Fund),” she said.
Based on a schedule she outlined, the DOT was intending to work on Route 206 until Dec.8 or 9. But if the project was not completed by then, it would have to be finished next spring, she said.
A delay of as little as a week in getting started could have wide implications, Mayor Lempert said in adding that weather is another factor.
“Even the original schedule is tight, because you don’t know when winter is going to start,” she said. “When you start adding a week or two weeks and you’re starting point is Dec.8, it becomes extremely concerning what the impact of this is going to be to Princeton and the region.”
Mayor Lempert said Princeton has approved extending work hours to enable state DOT crews to work until 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday.