Anxious to learn how the six-month-long closure of Alexander Street for three simultaneous bridge replacement projects, dozens of people peppered state and county engineers with questions at a special open house that was held on Sept. 25.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation sponsored the public information center at Monument Hall (the former Princeton Borough Municipal Building), hard on the heels of an identical public information center held the day before in West Windsor Township.
NJDOT is replacing a bridge across the Delaware & Raritan Canal on the Princeton-West Windsor border on Alexander Street, and Mercer County is replacing two bridges that it maintains on Alexander Street. One of the Mercer County-maintained bridges crosses Stony Brook and the other bridge crosses Alexander Creek.
Alexander Street will be closed from Nov. 6 through mid-April 2020 to accommodate the bridge replacement projects, according to NJDOT. It will be closed between Faculty Road in Princeton and Canal Pointe Boulevard in West Windsor Township.
Detours have been set up. The main detour in Princeton for drivers traveling east on Alexander Street is to turn left onto Faculty Road and then turn right onto Washington Road to reach U.S. Route 1.
In West Windsor Township, drivers who want to reach Princeton will be directed onto Route 1 to Washington Road. They may continue on Washington Road into Princeton, or they may turn left onto Faculty Road and turn right onto Alexander Street.
West Windsor Township residents who live in the Canal Pointe condominium and townhouse development and those who lies on Glenview Drive will be able to get to their homes. Canal Pointe Boulevard and Glenview Drive are located off Alexander Road, which is the name of the street in West Windsor Township.
Electronic variable message boards will be set up on I-295, Princeton Pike, Route 206 and Route 1 to alert drivers that Alexander Street/Alexander Road is closed. The message boards on I-295 will list alternate routes, such as Route 1, Princeton Pike and Route 206 to get into Princeton.
Each message board will tell drivers how long it will take to get to Princeton, depending on its location. Similar signs will be in place in Princeton to advise drivers as they leave town.
NJDOT officials realize the bridge projects will have an impact, but the projects are necessary, said NJDOT spokesman Steve Schapiro. The bridges need to be replaced because they are failing, he said.
“We designed the projects to minimize the impact. We are working with Mercer County to do them at the same time to minimize the impact on the community,” Schapiro said.
The new NJDOT-maintained bridge that crosses the Delaware & Raritan Canal will be wider than the existing one. It will have two 12-foot-wide travel lanes for cars, two 5-foot-wide shoulders and two 5-foot-wide sidewalks.
The two Mercer County bridges also will be wider than the ones that cross Stony Brook and Alexander Creek, said Mercer County Engineer George Fallat. They will have two 12-foot-wide travel lanes, two 5-foot-wide shoulders and a sidewalk that is 8 feet wide.
To expedite the work, the Mercer County bridges will be partially constructed off-site, Fallat said. The sections will be brought to the job site and placed on top of the concrete footings, which will have been poured on-site.
Mayor Liz Lempert was pleased with the turnout at the public information center.
“There were a lot of good questions and good suggestions. We are trying to get the word out about the projects so there will be no surprises,” Mayor Lempert said.
“People can use the time (between now and the start of construction) to adjust their route. It’s going to be a challenging period, but if we can all work together to plan ahead, we can reduce the pain,” she said.
The Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association has offered to work with businesses to put together travel plans for their employees, Mayor Lempert said. Businesses may consider implementing flextime or allowing employees to telecommute, she said.
Princeton merchants, meanwhile, are hoping that shoppers will remain in town for dinner once they have completed their shopping, Mayor Lempert said. The bridge project and street closure will coincide with the holiday shopping season.
The timing of the bridge replacement projects has been dictated by environmental considerations.
Work on the bridges is banned between May 1 and July 31 to protect warm water fish in Stony Brook and Alexander Creek to prevent sediment from washing into the two bodies of water.
Also, trees that are least six inches in diameter at breast height may not be cut down between April 1 and Sept. 30 because of the presence of the Indiana bat, which is a federally endangered species.