State details bridge project

$49 million project will replace Route 23 bridge, increase size

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  • This is the rendering for the new bridge proposed on Route 23 near High Crest Drive.

Essential Information
High Crest Road Bridge Project
Total est. cost: $49 million
Cost to rent temporary bridge: $1.8 million
Final design completion est.: Fall 2014
Construction completion est.: Spring 2017

State Department of Transportation personnel and their engineers presented preliminary plans last week to the township's governing body to replace the High Crest Bridge on Route 23, that connects West Milford and Kinnelon over the Pequannock River. While this new bridge has been years in the making, at least one member of the council is not satisfied with how the project is shaping up and said more thought should go into the size of the roadway and the bridge itself.

The bridge
This bridge, which is commonly called the High Crest Bridge but is referred to by the state as the “Route 23 over Pequannock River Bridge Project,” connects West Milford with the Borough of Kinnelon and goes over the Pequannock River, the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike and the NYS&W Railroad. The bridge is 80 years old and in dire need of repair.

“The bridge is structurally deficient and functionally obsolete,” said Brian Mulcahy, project manager for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT). The bridge project, he said, is eligible for federal funding. The state has retained Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc., of Morristown for the project design.

"There's too much volume on Route 23 for traffic lights anymore. Route 23 in West Milford backs up because it's two lanes. It's as simple as that."
Councilwoman Ada Erik

The plan
The preliminary plan, presented to the township at its meeting last Wednesday, is to replace the existing four-lane bridge - with two lanes northbound and two lanes southbound - first with a temporary one while construction of a new one takes place. The temporary bridge will be placed on the southbound side of the existing bridge to maintain traffic flow while the existing bridge is demolished and replaced, according to Walter Lawrence, an engineer with Jacobs Engineering. This temporary bridge will have three lanes and a moveable barrier, similar to the one used on the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, allowing two lanes of traffic flowing southbound during the morning rush hour and one northbound and then switching it to two northbound and one southbound during evening peak traffic times. Three lanes is the largest temporary bridge they can get, he said, to put in this location.

The new bridge is being designed to be wider than the current one. Both the southbound and northbound sides will be built with a 10-foot shoulder on the outside and a five foot shoulder on the inside, increasing its size 30 feet from the current bridge.

“This bridge was designed for traffic 80 years ago,” said Lawrence, explaining that it contains a hump, it sags and is too narrow for today’s speeds. He said the DOT looks at traffic studies to determine what changes should be made both for traffic and safety reasons. This bridge has no shoulders and shoulders increase safety, he said. Also, the hump will be addressed by raising the bridge eight to nine feet and the sag will be gone.

A storm water detention area will be built. It will sit in the basin on the northbound side where water will slowly perk down to the river. There will be no new pipes involved. This will ensure that the water running into the river is clean, Lawrence said, noting that the Pequannock is one of the few, clean, trout-producing rivers in New Jersey.

Could there be a better plan?

Councilwoman Ada Erik, though, said she thought the new bridge would be widened by adding an additional lane on both sides for traffic, not for shoulders. She said the DOT talked of adding a lane on each side to Route 23 in this area for the past 17 years while improvements were being made on other areas of the highway and plans were being made for this bridge. DOT’s estimate of a 1 percent increase in traffic per year on this roadway was too conservative, she said, noting that she travels it almost daily and has seen a tremendous rise in the number of cars and trucks sharing the road. She said the extra 15 feet being added to each side of the bridge should be used for a third lane on each side, not shoulders.

Deborah Hirt, from the DOT’s Office of Community Relations, said the added 15 feet on each side of the bridge is more than enough to add a lane, if that is deemed necessary.

After the meeting, Erik said the same thing should be done to Route 23 that was done to Route 17 in Bergen County years ago. Lights should be removed and exits should be ramps that go up and over the roadway.

“There’s too much volume on Route 23 for traffic lights anymore,” said Erik. “Route 23 in West Milford backs up because it’s two lanes. It’s as simple as that.”

She is also concerned with the S turns on the roadway and wants them fixed. A few years ago, the DOT met with township officials to discuss the S turns in a two-mile area on Route 23 northbound. Police figures showed an average of 60 accidents in this area per year from 2007 through 2010. The township has been working with the DOT for several years, discussing this in hopes of getting the roadway straightened and provide a permanent solution. The DOT has put down rumble strips, but that’s not enough for Erik. She doesn’t believe that will provide the result needed.

“Promises have been made,” said Erik. “The estimation of an increase of 1 percent in traffic a year is B.S.”

What do you think? Are you one of the estimated 50,000 drivers a day that uses Route 23 to commute? Go to and tell us if you think the new bridge will be adequate or if the roadway and bridge should be expanded to three lanes in each direction.

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