How safe are Hudson County's bridges? Hoboken/UC Viaduct, Pulaski Skyway rated 'deficient'; state report due Sept. 17
by Ricardo Kaulessar Reporter staff writer
Aug 19, 2007 | 1076 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Jon Corzine recently ordered State Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri to submit a report to him by Sept. 17 detailing recent inspections and repair estimates for the 6,429 state, county, and local bridges in New Jersey.

Hudson County is home to more than a hundred vehicular, pedestrian, and railroad bridges.

County government is responsible for 34 of them, and the remaining 70-plus bridges are operated either by the DOT, the NJ Turnpike, or a particular municipality.

Two bridges in the county, a viaduct between Hoboken and Union City and the Pulaski Skyway (which has extensions in Jersey City), have been rated "structurally deficient" by the federal government.

The matter got an extra look because of the recent collapse of Minneapolis's Interstate 35W Bridge on Aug. 1. That eight-lane bridge was 40 years old.

The state plans to spend $543 million on its bridge repair program in 2008.'Inspected six months ago'

The Hudson County Division of Engineering is responsible for inspecting the 34 county-owned bridges.

Bob Jasek, director of the county's engineering division, issued a statement recently through the county spokesman James Kennelly saying, "All our bridges were inspected six months ago, and not one was reported in need of repair."

Jasek said the county retains a consultant who performs inspections of all county-owned bridges every two years.

He also said Gov. Corzine ordered a review of the steel deck truss bridges like the one in Minneapolis, and thus the county will not be involved in the review, since it does own any bridges of that type.

But there is one truss bridge that is often used by county residents: the Pulaski Skyway. What is a 'truss bridge'?

A truss bridge is a type of structure where the straight sections of the bridge are connected by pin joints. Considered one of the oldest types of modern bridges, there are 756 are in the United States.

Jersey City has three truss bridges, which are not owned by the county: the 12th and 14th Street viaducts on Route 139 that run to the entrances of the Holland Tunnel and the Pulaski Skyway, and the Lincoln Highway Bridge, which crosses over the Hackensack River between Jersey City and Kearny.

The Pulaski Skyway itself is a truss bridge that is about to get a serious look. Pulaski Skyway 'structurally deficient'

One of the most famous truss bridges is the Pulaski Skyway that runs through parts of Jersey City, Kearny, and Newark.

Opened in 1932, the four-lane, 3.5-mile structure includes two 550 foot cantilever spans, one over the Hackensack River between Jersey City and Kearny, and the other over the Passaic River between Kearny and Newark.

Recently, it received a "structurally deficient" tag from the federal government, as it earned multiple assessments of poor conditions with an overall evaluation of "basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action."

"Structurally deficient" is engineer-speak for a bridge that, while not in danger of collapse, has structural defects that require attention immediately to prevent further deterioration.

Last week, state DOT workers with machinery checked the structure of the Skyway on the Kearny side. DeGise: 'Old rickety structure'

The Skyway, however, is undergoing a 10-year rehabilitation starting later this month as the DOT plans to spend $10 million a year to fix it.

This project will provide for interim repairs on the Pulaski Skyway to various parts of the Skyway as well as spot painting, electrical safety, installation of protective netting over the NJ Turnpike, and concrete encasement removal.

According to DOT spokesperson Tim Greeley, the first phase of rehab on the Skyway will involve over 1,200 feet of roadway at the eastern end of the structure toward Jersey City.

But Greeley said there is an ongoing study looking at replacing the entire Skyway, with the estimated cost starting at $1 billion.

Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, a Jersey City resident, said he'd like to see a new bridge there.

"I have been over the Skyway several thousand times in my life, and it's an old rickety structure," DeGise said. "My staff and I took a trip down the Hackensack River last year, and when you looked up at the Skyway, you could see the deterioration, the concrete falling off the steel, and the steel turning orange."

Over the years, the Skyway has earned the reputation as one of the more dangerous roads in the state, with hundreds of car accidents. A 'structurally deficient' Hoboken/UC viaduct

The term "structurally deficient" has been cited in articles about bridge safety, along with the term "functionally obsolete." They are criteria issued by the Federal Highway Administration in their National Bridge Inventory to rate the condition of bridges across the United States. The determinations are based on inspection reports provided by the DOT to the Federal Highway Administration.

Functionally obsolete means a bridge may no longer be adequate for the traffic that it currently accommodates.

Of the 34 Hudson County-operated bridges listed in the National Bridge Inventory, one is rated as structurally deficient, while nine carry the "functionally obsolete" tag.

The bridge marked "structurally deficient" in the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inventory for 2006 is Hoboken's 14th Street Viaduct, which starts at Willow Avenue in Hoboken and ends at Manhattan Avenue in Union City.

The inventory does not offer exact details, but notes the "poor condition" of the substructure, or the section under the bridge surface.

Built in 1910, the 1,460-foot structure has average daily traffic of more than 20,000 vehicles.

Last week, DeGise said there are plans to rebuild the Viaduct starting in 2010. The rehab is estimated to cost $50 to $60 million and will take two years.

"This is our top priority, and we have designs for a new one," DeGise said. "It's just a matter of finding the money."

DeGise added, "[The county] would love to fix all of our bridges as soon as possible, but it can't happen all at once."

Out of the bridges operated by other government bodies, 12 were found to be structurally deficient and 26 were functionally obsolete.

Many of these bridges were built before 1950, before SUVs or increased vehicular ownership. Not so upbeat

The upbeat assessment from Jasek about the county's bridges is of little consolation to Hudson County Freeholder Jeffrey Dublin, who worked previously as an inspector in the Hudson County Department of Roads & Public Property.

"It sounds good, but show me paperwork," said Dublin, who planned to bring up the issue of county bridges at the freeholders meeting this past Thursday. Others already getting attention

The Route 139 viaducts leading to and from the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City are currently undergoing a major $225 million rehabilitation that will last until 2009.

This New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) project being done in six stages, with the rehabilitation of the 14th Street Viaduct in Jersey City starting in February 2005. The project ends by fall 2009 with the rehabilitation of the 12th Street Viaduct.

The project includes re-decking of the entire roadway surface and super and substructure repairs. Workers will install a safety barrier and light poles.

The 12th Street Viaduct opened in 1927 while the 14th Street Viaduct was built in 1950. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at rkaulessar@hudsonreporter.com
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