Bridge groundbreaking ceremony in Hightstown

With the ceremonial push of a shovelful of dirt, Hightstown Borough officials broke ground on the replacement for a new pedestrian bridge over the Peddie Lake dam on a warm evening of May 20.

The pedestrian bridge, which crossed over the Peddie Lake dam just a stone’s throw from N. Main Street, was removed about 10 years ago after an inspection by state officials determined that it was not safe.

Shovel in hand, an obviously pleased Hightstown Borough Mayor Lawrence Quattrone declared that “we have been a long, long time waiting. It is finally happening.”

Work on the new pedestrian bridge began this week, and it is expected to be completed by late August or early September. Assuncao Brothers Inc. of Edison was awarded a $408,575 contract for the job by the Hightstown Borough Council.

Hightstown Borough was awarded a $408,575 grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation for the project. The town received an additional $121,215 to pay for engineering and inspection costs.

Hightstown Borough Council President Steven Misiura told the groundbreaking ceremony attendees that five years ago, there was not enough money to pay for a new bridge. Residents and organizations had raised about $50,000, but the amount fell short of the cost.

“Then, we learned about the (state) grant. We thought it was a long shot – a ‘Hail Mary pass.’ We applied and we waited for the grant. It was a lesson in federal grants,” Misiura said.

“It has been a long time, but we are finally going to see it happen,” he said.

The original bridge was built in 1921 in conjunction with Memorial Park, which honors Hightstown’s war heroes. Memorial Park was created in the early 1920’s.

The bridge, which was a central part of the Hightstown landscape, was condemned by New Jersey in the early 2000’s. A young Hightstown girl, Taylor Bell, approached Hightstown Borough Council in 2009. She told the council that she wanted the bridge to be rebuilt and that she also wanted to help.

The Hightstown Walking Bridge Committee was organized to find out what it would take to build a bridge. The committee settled on a metal arch bridge with some historical design.

The town was set to move forward with the bridge project, but suffered setbacks when Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and Super Storm Sandy in October 2012 caused extensive flooding and damage in Hightstown Borough.

A state inspection of the Peddie Lake dam revealed that the dam was structurally sound, but the abutments holding up the original bridge were hollow and did not have proper footings. This meant a new bridge could not be built in the same location, as planned.

The town went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan to build the bridge over top of the dam. The footings would be outside of the dam itself. The final design called for an 80-foot-long bridge, which is twice as long as originally proposed.

Despite the stops and starts, the design of the bridge has not changed. It will celebrate the history of Memorial Park. Design features include two-sided, hand-hammered steel “medallions” that tell the story of Memorial Park.

A historic marker will be placed next to the bridge, explaining the history of Memorial Park. The plaque will help visitors and residents learn about the town’s history and also encourage them to explore the bridge and the surrounding area.

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