Concrete dropping from the bottom of the Meadowlands Parkway Bridge onto the platform of the Harmon Cove train station alerted New Jersey Transit and town officials to possible danger last week.
For several hours on April 26, town officials debated whether or not they would have to close the bridge. This action would have had serve repercussions, since it would have essentially shut down the back end of Secaucus.
While traffic could make its way in and out of that section via Castle Road and New County Avenue, rush hour train traffic has often shut that entrance for hours at a time.
Closing the bridge could also have halted the proposed reconstruction of Castle Road, a plan that is just being implemented after nearly a decade of negotiations.
NJ Transit workers discovered that the bridge had developed a tear in its metal undersiding, allowing chunks of concrete to fall through. Orange safety cones set up on the surface of the bridge to divert traffic from the tear could be seen from below through the hole.
The bridge, which allows Meadowlands Parkway to go over railroad tracks accommodating the Bergen Line into Hoboken, has been deteriorating for several years, and estimates for its repair have ranged from $500,000 to $1 million. "We've been trying to come up with the money for that bridge since we rebuilt Meadowlands Parkway two years ago," said Mayor Dennis Elwell.
The bridge has numerous problems to its concrete deck, deck joints, drainage, and wooden walkway and railing. Much of the bridge's damage had come as a result of years of road salt being applied to keep it from freezing in winter.
Engineers noted that the structure's concrete abutments and piers are crumbling and peeling, with additional moderate deterioration of the bridge's steel components.
Mayor Elwell said he had authorized $10,000 for an emergency repairs to begin now. He will get a formal vote of approval from the Town Council at its May 14 meeting.
"We've authorizing an emergency repair to take care of the current problem," Elwell said, noting that the town will have to move quickly to address the walkway as well, which is currently considered at risk of collapse. "People have to take the walkway to get to the train station," he said.
They will keep the area open while they fix the bridge. NJ Transit workers have closed off a section of the Harmon Cove Train Station to keep people from wandering under falling concrete.
Will need reconstruction
Meadowlands Parkway and the bridge became the possession of the town of Secaucus after years of legal bickering with Hartz Mountain Industries, which originally built both the roadway and the bridge. The town settled its lawsuit with Hartz in the summer of 1998. Under an obscure provision of state law, Hartz argued successfully that private roads that take on a public use could be shifted to a municipality after 20 years.
Unfortunately, the roads that traverse the Harmon Cove and the outlet sections of town were built to a different standard than public roads would have been, resulting in significant deterioration under the high volume of traffic over them. Tests on the roads, in particular the Meadowlands Parkway, showed problems with the sub-base materials. This has caused the highway to crack and sinkholes to form.
The bridge's surface is particularly vulnerable. Along with the hole from which the concrete fell, the surface had four other huge potholes, each of which already had been repaired once.
"We had the DPW put asphalt into each, but it won't hold," Elwell said. "We have to repair it using concrete."
The town is currently waiting for Boswell Engineering to submit a plan for reconstruction of the bridge. Town officials have been lobbying state and federal officials to help fund the reconstruction. The Meadowlands Parkway Bridge currently sees massive amount of truck traffic into the industrial sections of Seaview Drive and Castle Road. The bridge will see an increase in commuter traffic when the Secaucus Transfer Rail Station opens in two years.
"We are out lobbying to get money," Elwell said.