Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 16
 
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
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Bumpy Mercer Street Presents Challenge as Daunting Reconstruction Project Looms

Matthew Hersh

Things are running surprisingly smoothly in Princeton Borough's well traveled thoroughfares these days.

The past two years have seen the state's repaving of Nassau Street from Borough Hall to Snowden Lane, the renewal of Witherspoon Street and Alexander streets, and the improvement of the once pockmarked University Place.

Even lesser traveled roads are getting the attention they deserve: Jefferson Road, Greenview Avenue, Humbert Street, South Tulane Street, Murray Place, Edwards Place.

These projects were mostly funded by municipal appropriations as outlined in the Borough's annual capital improvement plan, as well as funds received through state and county grants.

And while those projects are pricey, often including sidewalk and sewer work in addition to aesthetic improvements, nothing seems quite so daunting as the costs associated with the reconstruction of Mercer Street, the ragged poster child for Borough roads of yore.

And while municipal officials acknowledge that the road requires repair, the surface is not getting any worse, and other roads need work too. So, for the time being, Mercer Street, whose 1927 concrete surface is still visible at various points, will have to wait.

"It would be a substantial project," said Borough Engineer Carl Peters, who has hinted at recent Borough Council meetings at the expenses involved in effectively remaking Mercer Street. Estimates range anywhere from $3.5 million to nearly $5 million, but any way it's sliced, the Borough will likely have to choose a year where that will be the only road improvement project on the map.

Recently, the top of a two-foot wide brick-walled culvert near Springdale Road, estimated to be at least 80 years old (it appears on the 1927 concrete paving of Mercer Street), became cracked and then caved. The Borough replaced the hole with a metal plate, and are preparing to repair the cavity in the coming weeks, but as is already known, the project is nothing more than a stopgap.

"It's been pushed off over the years. While it's in crummy condition, it's not substantially worse than it was five years ago because it's concrete, and it deteriorates more slowly than asphalt pavement," Mr. Peters said.

"It's going to be extremely expensive to reconstruct, so when you're looking at allocating your capital budget, we've been trying to look at the overall cost to all Borough roads," he added.

A Mercer Street reconstruction will take about two years of the Borough's capital budget funds, leaving municipal officials wondering if there will ever be a two-year stretch when other, equally important roads, do not need work. The Catch-22 here is that engineering officials say that if these other roads, like University Place, do not receive attention, they would be subjected to total reconstruction, putting the Borough in a deeper financial hole than before.

Mr. Peters estimated that the Mercer Street project could be underway by 2010, but earlier capital plans had indicated earlier timelines.

A Mercer Street project would entail the removal of the roadway, fix utilities "at least as ancient as the roadway," Mr. Peters said, and fix sanitary sewers, and finish with new pavement, curbs, and sidewalks.

Several years ago, when the Borough reconstructed the section of Mercer from Springdale Road to the municipal line at Olden Street/Lovers Lane, the non-concrete, more easily penetrable roadbase visible from Hibben Road to near Nassau Street facilitated the project. The concrete surface, roughly 10 to 12 inches thick, complicates matters. "It's a very expensive project once we get started," said Borough administrator Robert Bruschi.

So for now, it appears, drivers will have to embrace old Mercer Street, lumps and all.

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