Hightstown officials will dedicate new Peddie Lake bridge

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Hightstown officials and residents will gather at Memorial Park on North Main Street to dedicate a new pedestrian bridge over Peddie Lake on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.

The dedication ceremony will mark the end of a decade-long effort to replace a bridge over Peddie Lake that was condemned for safety reasons by state inspectors. The bridge was a central part of the Highstown landscape.

A pedestrian who walks on the new bridge will see a series of one-sided, hand-hammered steel medallions that outline the history of the adjacent Memorial Park. The medallions were designed by Ryan Rosenberg and forged by artist and blacksmith Charlie Spademan.

Soon after the previous bridge was condemned by state inspectors in the early 2000s, a young Hightstown girl, Taylor Bell, approached the Borough Council and told the governing body she wanted the bridge to be rebuilt and that she wanted to help.

The Highstown 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 elements.

Officials were set to move forward with the project, but suffered setbacks when two storms – tropical storm Irene in August 2011 and superstorm Sandy in October 2012 – caused extensive flooding in town.

While state inspectors subsequently found the Peddie Lake dam was structurally sound, they discovered the abutments holding up the original bridge were hollow and did not have the proper footings. This meant a new bridge could not be built on the same spot as the old one.

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

Hightstown officials soon discovered they did not have enough money to pay for a new bridge, despite fundraising efforts by residents that raised about $50,000. The bridge would cost much more.

Municipal officials learned of a state grant opportunity. They applied for and received a state grant of $408,575 from the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

The Borough Council awarded a contract to Assuncao Brothers Inc. of Edison for $408,575 to build the new bridge.

The bridge that was demolished in the early 2000s was built in 1921 in conjunction with Memorial Park, which honors the town’s war heroes. It was not the first bridge over the Peddie Lake dam. An enclosed wooden walkway across the dam that formed Peddie Lake was the forerunner to the 1921 bridge.