The New Jersey Department of Transportation hosted a public information session on Wednesday night at Monument Hall in Princeton regarding the replacement of the bridge over the D&R Canal on Alexander Road. Mercer County officials also attended the meeting to answer questions about a county project to replace a culvert and the bridge over the Stony Brook on Alexander Road.
About 50 people attended the meeting at Monument Hall in Princeton. There was no formal presentation. Photos and drawings were on display. Residents could walk around the room, look at the plans, and ask officials questions.
The state and county bridge projects are being coordinated. The projects are expected to take about eight months to complete.
Traffic during the projects was the biggest concern among residents who attended the meeting. Alexander Road between Faculty Road and Canal Pointe Boulevard will be closed while the bridges are being replaced. The official detour for the projects will route vehicles onto Faculty Road and Washington Road.
On Tuesday, Alexander Road was closed for tree trimming, and drivers had a sampling of what traffic could be like during the project. Around 2 p.m., for example, cars trying to exit Princeton were backed up on Washington Road all the way from Faculty Road to Route 1. On Route 1 north, vehicles were backed up from the Carnegie Center to Washington Road. Officials said once the bridge project begins and the detours are in place, the first few days could be extra tough for commuters. But then drivers will learn to take alternate routes in and out of Princeton, using Harrison Street, Route 206, Quaker Road and Princeton Pike.
Some area residents who walk or ride their bikes along the canal or commute to work on their bikes were disappointed that there will be no alternate path for pedestrian and bicycles.
A time table for the start of the projects is still not firm, but the projects likely will begin in the fall. Officials assured residents that the Dinky train will be back in operation before the projects begin. In October, NJ Transit replaced the train with a shuttle bus in order to use the Dinky crew and equipment to install positive train control in other parts of the state. A Dinky train service restoration date has not been provided yet. Officials said Wednesday night that the closure of Alexander Road for the bridge project could mean a lot more passengers on the Dinky, which experienced a drop in ridership after the station was moved from University Place to Alexander Road.
Each lane of the new bridge over the D&R Canal will be two feet wider, and there will be a five-foot shoulder on each side. Some residents welcome the widening of the bridge as a safety measure. The existing lanes are narrow, and Princeton University’s Tiger Transit buses must travel across the bridge. Some residents expressed concerns that widening the bridge will cause people to go too fast around a curve on the road.
Alexander Road is a municipal road. But the bridge over the D&R Canal is a state bridge. The bridge over the Stony Brook is a county bridge. The county is replacing the bridge and a culvert with funding it received from the state, Assistant Mercer County Engineer Basit Muzaffar said. Princeton University gave $250,000 to the county to pay for design plans for the county project.
“The bridges absolutely need to be replaced,” Muzaffar said, discussing safety concerns.
The bridge over the D&R Canal was constructed in 1948. The three-span, simply supported bridge carries a timber deck overlaid with asphalt and rolled steel beams below a 6-foot wide timber sidewalk. The bridge has one travel lane in each direction and no shoulders, and is currently open to traffic with a 20-ton vehicle weight restriction. The bridge is located within the Delaware and Raritan Canal Historic District, the Camden and Amboy Railroad Branch Line, and Princeton Basin historic districts. The public information meeting Wednesday was a formal forum required by the state to receive public comment on issues related to the project and the protection of cultural resources under the New Jersey Register of Historic Places Act.