Planet Princeton

Mercer County Plans to Sue State Over Road Project Shutdowns

The bridge over the Stony Brook can't be repaired until the Carter Road bridge project is completed. Work will not begin until spring of 2017.
The bridge over the Stony Brook can’t be repaired until the Carter Road bridge project is completed. Work will not begin until spring of 2017.

Mercer County has served a notice of claim against the State of New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Transportation because of the continued shutdown of road projects in the county.

Gov. Chris Christie is ordering the immediate shutdown of all ongoing work funded by the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund Authority on June 30. On July 6, NJDOT Acting Commissioner Richard Hammer issued a companion order requiring that all contractors secure projects and cease active work on projects.

The orders resulted in the stoppage of four projects in Mercer County:

– The replacement of Bridge No. 543.7 on Carter Road in Lawrence
– The replacement of Bridge No. 672.4 on South Broad St. in Hamilton
– The construction of security fence at Trenton-Mercer Airport
– The rehabilitation of two bridges on River Drive in Hopewell

Two other projects are on hold that had not been started yet, the Whitehorse-Mercerville Road (CR 533) signal project in Hamilton and the Princeton-Hightstown Road (CR 571) design inWest Windsor.

The state has also postponed the  reconstruction of two historic bridges on Route 206 in Princeton until next spring because Carter Road is the designated detour route for that work, and thus the other projects can’t be started until that bridge is fixed.

New Jersey law requires filing a notice of a notice of claim before seeking damages from a public entity through litigation.

“Mercer County has taken this initial step because we feel the State has breached its contractual obligations with the county to provide the allocated funding for these projects,” Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said. “The Governor’s Executive Order has put a tremendous
strain on our residents and businesses by leaving unfinished projects in limbo.”

The County will take a financial hit because of the delays, having ordered materials such as beams and guide rails before the shutdown orders went into effect, Hughes said.

“It costs money to stop a project and it costs money to restart a project,” he said, adding that Mercer County appealed to the NJDOT for permission to move forward with the Carter Road  bridge project using state funds, but was unsuccessful.

The Shutdown Orders are expected to result in “demobilization and reassembly costs,” as well as resulting in “unnecessary and unforeseeable delays” in the completion of the
projects, according to the County’s notice of claim, which was sent to Office of the Attorney General, the Department of the Treasury and the NJDOT.

If the county funds the projects instead, county taxpayers “would necessarily be damaged as a result of the failure of the State to fulfill its contractual obligation,” reads the claim.

“The Governor and the Legislature need to find a reasonable way to restore the Transportation Trust Fund as soon as possible,” Hughes said. “Projects have been on hold for more than two months now and people are hurting.”

In Somerset County, the freeholders last week approve funding to repair the Route 518 bridge. The bridge closure has caused major delays in the area and doubled commuting time for many drivers.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Tony Piscotta

    This is not a “fools errand” at all. Rather it is the Democrats playing politics – and not surprisingly freeholder candidate Andrew Koontz leading the charge. With the pending Bridgegate trial – in fact Board President Ann Cannon alluded to this at last night’s agenda meeting – the board is intent on using the governor’s unpopularity as their campaign platform.

    If their actions generate more fees for their lawyers and staff – much like the Mercer County Park fiasco – that is a bonus.

  • Ari BenDavid

    Legislators and taxpayers do not want to spend another penny in road tax. I recommend that all road repairs be suspended forever. Motorists can do their best on roads and bridges that have not yet deteriorated. They will probably never want to spend again, so they will just have to do with the ever-diminishing routes that are still passable. Even when it becomes like wartime in Aleppo, I think no one will get it.

  • michael kellers

    Good luck. A fools errand.

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