Commuter’s Marshall Hill bridge nightmare is a sample of worse to come

| 27 Dec 2018 | 10:49

WEST MILFORD – A five-month detour around the Marshall Hill Road Bridge that angered and inconvenienced commuters and residents may be just a sample of worse, and longer, problems to come when another bridge reconstruction project takes place on the opposite end of the township.
Reconstruction of the Route 23 bridge in the Smith Mills section of the Township of West Milford at the Kinnelon Borough by the New Jersey Department of Transportation is now scheduled to begin in 2021.
State officials said the work would take two years to complete.
Plans were to start the bridge reconstruction in 2017 with a completion date of 2019, but there were delays in getting work underway with the state planning to coordinate other Route 23 projects to lessen the traffic impact.
These include replacement of a northbound bridge near the Sussex County/West Milford boundary.
The bridge has 36,000 vehicles traveling on it daily, according to a West Milford Engineering Department estimate.
It crosses the Hamburg Turnpike, a portion of the Pequannock River, and the tracks of the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad.
The initial estimated cost of the project in July 2014, when the plan was presented at state public meetings, was $56 million.
Built in 1934, the bridge was classified by the DEP as being obsolete and unsafe due to erosion and other aging problems.
Highway Projects Manager for Jacobs Engineering of Morristown, Walter J. Lawrence, speaking at a Township of West Milford council meeting, said traffic was too tight and that is why motor vehicle accidents on the bridge had increased.
He said in 2014 that the present bridge might stand for 30 more years but the state does not want to chance that it could not do that.
The projects director said the new bridge would address apparent design deficiencies.
He talked about plans to build a three-lane temporary bridge that will handle traffic on the busy highway.
There is to be a barrier that will provide two northbound lanes for the evening commute and two southbound lanes for the morning commuters.
All traffic is to be moved to the new bridge when the structure is two-thirds complete.
After a new span is erected, the temporary span will be removed to allow workers to widen the bridge and stripe realigned lanes and shoulders that will be 30 feet wide.
The 2014 report said the shoulders are sub-standard.
Two full construction seasons are expected to be needed to complete the project.
State officials said there may be some overlap with the road paving in connection with the ongoing project to remove the dangerous "S" turns on the highway north of the bridge.
Lawrence said the hump now in the middle of the bridge will be flattened, addressing poor sight distance that causes problems.