Bordentown City officials to reassess DOT project that could potentially damage local monument

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The preservation of the Bordentown City Veterans Memorial monument may have put upgrades on a local bridge on hold.

After the Bordentown City Board of Commissioners and Department of Transportation (DOT) announced earlier this year that the Farnsworth Avenue (CR 545) Bridge over the Robbinsville Secondary Conrail would be replaced due to its diminishing condition, municipal officials said they intend to reconsider initial plans for the project due to concerns with its potential effect on the monument.

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In an effort to preserve and maintain the existing Veterans Memorial, which is located on Farnsworth Avenue, Mayor James Lynch took a moment at a June 10 Board of Commissioners meeting to express his stance on the bridge construction’s supposed plans to dismantle, store and rebuild the site after the project’s completion.

Although city and DOT officials initially reported in January that the site was planned to be preserved during the project, Lynch explained that when he attended a Memorial Day event that was held at the monument, he reconsidered the feasibility of it being dismantled and rebuilt without any damage upon additional inspection.

“I’m looking at this memorial, and I can’t see [DOT] dismantling it and saving that memorial,” Lynch said at the June meeting. “I think it’s going to be destroyed and that they are going to have to rebuild it.”

Following his reconsideration, Lynch said that the municipality intends to speak with the DOT’s professionals assigned to this project for additional conversation and reevaluate the state department’s initial plans to maintain the memorial during the bridge construction.

“I would like to reopen this discussion with the DOT and entertain a meeting with them, and have them come down to show me – do an on-site inspection,” Lynch said. “I want to know exactly what they think they are going to do here and why they cannot possibly fix that bridge from underneath instead of destroying all of the hard work put into that memorial.”

At a Jan. 24 open house meeting to discuss and inform Bordentown residents about the bridge construction, patrons were invited by the municipality and DOT to review exhibits of the proposed project, ask questions and discuss any concerns with the state professionals since the proposed construction phase can potentially impact traffic and pedestrians.

The bridge replacement’s project manager, Tam Sillick, conversed with residents at the meeting to discuss the reasoning behind the project and explain where the state is currently at in the process.

Sillick said that the bridge’s existing conditions are deficient such as cracks, missing stones, missing mortar and masonry. She said it is also functionally obsolete because it has substandard under-clearance and because of these issues, the DOT is looking at various alternatives in its concept development phase of the design where plans are discussed to fulfill the project’s purpose and need.

Given that the project is currently in a concept design phase, DOT professionals said that these projects are meant to identify the various issues, engage the community and stakeholders, evaluate the alternatives and their corresponding issues as well as applicable regulations and permits, and recommend a preferred alternative if necessary.

The proposed project is intended to improve the safety of the bridge by replacing it and improve the pedestrian mobility by reconstructing the sidewalk and curb ramps along Farnsworth Avenue within the project limits so that they are Americans with Disabilities Act compliant (ADA).

As the project’s plan currently stands, roadway pavement will be replaced within the project limits, but the Veterans’ Memorial will have to be removed and stored during the bridge construction.

Sillick explained at the January meeting that DOT professionals understand the project site is located in the historic district of Bordentown, so considerations to preserve historic sites are looked at, and all comments and concerns are taken into account during the design phase.

After the concept design phase, the DOT said it will move to the design and permitting phase where the state will bid out the project and award the construction to the lowest responsible bidder.

Once a final design is in place, the DOT said it anticipates construction to begin in spring of 2023 with the bridge replacement process lasting approximately six months. Depending on the selected six-month time frame for the replacement, Lynch said that municipal officials will work with the residents and business owners regarding local festivals and events.

As the DOT estimated schedule for the project currently stands, final design start for the project is planned for spring of 2021, estimated construction start is planned for spring of 2023 and completion of construction is planned for fall of 2025.

Before the state department’s assigned professionals continue with this project further though, City Commissioner Joe Myers explained at an Aug. 12 meeting that additional plans to preserve the Veterans’ Memorial will be taken into account.

Myers explained that the DOT hired one consultant, and the consultant is in the process of finalizing their concept development report. As part of it, he said that the purpose of the state department’s report is to document the challenges and issues associated with repairing the bridge.

“It is too early to determine what the nuances and what the exact plan is for all of that because it is a concept development report,” Myers said. “At some point, once it gets finished, then what happens is it will go out to full design. At the full design step, that’s when the engineering firm would work with us and New Jersey Transit to say, ‘We know what the issues are, but now we have to figure out what the best solution is to accommodate both fixing the bridge and also accommodating all the other adjacent or nearby issues’.”

The City Commissioner said the intent is that the consultant would finish their concept development report sometime in the fall this year, and then, the next step is that DOT has to find money to pay for the engineering, which is anticipated to start at the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020.

Myers said that the municipality plans to hold additional public meetings to inform residents about the project’s status and plans as it develops.

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