By Philip Sean Curran
Two bridges and a culvert along Alexander Street/Road in West Windsor and Princeton will be replaced in 2019 in a move that will cut off an artery to Route 1 that thousands travel daily. The closure is expected to last six months.
The closure means motorists will have to take Washington Road or Harrison Street as an alternate route during the time Alexander Street/Road is out of commission.
“Obviously, there are three main routes into Princeton from Route 1,” Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said on Dec. 19 during a public information session the state and Mercer County held in Princeton’s Monument Hall municipal building. “When one of them is closed, there’s a significant impact on the other two. So I think everybody’s expecting that.”
The two bridges and the culvert are near one another. Mercer County will replace two of the structures, a 1990 truss bridge over the Stony Brook and a culvert over a creek in Princeton. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) will replace a 1948 bridge over the D&R Canal that is at the border of Princeton and West Windsor.
“We’re trying to get it started late next year to get the project going,” Mercer County Engineer George Fallat said during the information session. “We’re still working out the timing with the DOT.”
For its part, the DOT said its project would start in the summer and be wrapped up in the spring of 2020. But the county said the projects would start in the fall.
The new county structures will have two 12-foot-wide traffic lanes and two 5-foot-wide shoulders. The project will cost about $5 million, Fallat said.
The state bridge is in “poor” condition, according to a DOT information sheet that was available at the meeting. For about $3.5 million, the state will install a new bridge with two 12-foot-wide traffic lanes, two 5-foot-wide shoulders and two 5-foot-wide sidewalks.
“We’re not looking forward to the traffic jam,” West Windsor Township Council President Alison Miller said. “It’s a bridge that obviously needs to be replaced.”
The closure will impact a road which 8,000 to 10,000 vehicles use daily, according to the county. Motorists will need to find new ways to get around the area.
“We’re going to try and provide as much advance notice as possible,” Fallat said.
“I do think it needs to be done,” Princeton Councilman David Cohen said. “There’s no question it’s going to be painful. I just think we need to stay in close touch and keep the pressure on both entities to make sure they finish on schedule.”
Any extra traffic along Washington Road would go through the Princeton University campus. The DOT has said the “primary detour route” will be for motorists to use Faculty and Washington roads to get to Route 1.
Through a spokesman, the university declined to comment last week.
Washington Road and Harrison Street also feed into Nassau Street. Lempert said she was not sure if Alexander Street being closed would create gridlock in Princeton at rush hour.
“Usually, the backup is as you get closer to Route 1, depending on the evening,” she said. “It’s one of those things where I think everybody in the community recognizes the work needs to get done. I think it’s good they’re doing the bridges at the same time to cut down on the impact of the closure. Hopefully, it will be an improvement when the work is complete.”
One county official touched on having a new bridge to accommodate all users, not just motorists, and called it “time to have something new.”
“I have felt that particularly the bridge over the Stony Brook has been very inadequate for a long time,” Mercer County Freeholder and Princeton resident Andrew Koontz said. “We need to have a solution there that will accommodate cars, buses, the vehicular traffic, as well as the cycling traffic the bridge already accommodates.”
Lempert sought to make a push for people to begin using public transportation, namely NJ Transit rail service.
“I hope this will encourage more people to ride the Dinky and maybe see the benefits of being on the train, especially during rush hour,” she said. “It’s always been the best way to get from Princeton to Princeton Junction at rush hour.”