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Stony Brook Bridge Rehab Proposal Questioned Again at Township Hearing

Matthew Hersh

A proposal to reconstruct the Stony Brook Arch Bridge at the corner of Route 206 North and Quaker Road in Princeton Township went public last week, as New Jersey Department of Transportation representatives descended on Township Hall for an information presentation.

What marked the meeting, however, was Princeton Township's opposition to the plan in its current form. Township officials have said that the proposal to rehabilitate the bridge will strip it of its historic appearance and upgrade it in a way that is not in keeping with the landmark bridge, or that of the Princeton Battlefield/Stony Brook Settlement Historic District, and the Kings Highway National Register Historic District.

DOT, which is slated to perform the construction on the state-controlled road, is proposing to preserve Route 206 over the Stony Brook Stone Arch Bridge and rehabilitate the adjacent Route 206 Floodplain bridge. The stone bridge, built in 1792, is the oldest in the state, according to DOT's Janet Fittipaldi, supervising environmental specialist.

The top of the Stone Arch Bridge, or the "super structure," is falling apart, and needs to be replaced, said Ray Jacek, project engineer of DOT's Division of Project Planning and Development. To do that without disrupting the already-heavy traffic flow on 206, DOT will use a pre-fab structure and drop in a new roadway surface. That aspect of construction will take eight to 10 days, Mr. Jacek said, with detours taking traffic onto nearby Carter Road. He added that DOT still needs to meet with Hopewell, Lawrence and Montgomery before those detours are solidified.

The project, whose starting date is still years away, is slated to take upwards of one year. In that time, Mr. Jacek said, two-way traffic will continue with the driving lanes being shifted so that bridge work can occur.

The adjacent flood plain bridge, built in 1896, needs to be replaced due to "poor structural integrity," Mr. Jacek said. As such, the open railings will be replaced to current DOT standards‹the new railing will be a concrete wall with one-inch-deep relief that simulates the open railing.

This, in particular, troubled the Township, which is still feeling the effects of the 2004 rebuild of the Harry's Brook Bridge on Princeton-Kingston Road. In that project, where traffic was diverted around the construction, DOT replaced the bridge completely, and installed so-called "Jersey Barriers" for safety. The Township's Historical Preservation Commission (HPC) objected to the aesthetics of the rebuild in that historic district.

"I would personally like to hear more on the assessment concerning the deteriorating of the bridge," said Julie Capozzoli, vice chair of the HPC. "Before we jump into this, we need to hear more about how the assessment took place, what standards are trying to be met, have there been exceptions in cases with other historical bridges and what assumptions did DOT make."

Ms. Capozzoli added that if the bridge is, in fact, in danger she wondered if there were other construction plans in place aside from the one being proposed.

"Does DOT have alternative measures other than the concrete core solution?" she asked, adding that lowering the speed limit, lowering the road bed, or building a separate bridge might solve some problems.

"Have any of these things been considered?"

Ms. Capozzoli also raised suspicions regarding the DOT's renderings of a new bridge, which appeared to be quite similar to the old bridge.

"This is really beautiful in cut-and-paste," she said sarcastically. "I think after Harry's Brook Bridge, we're apprehensive as to where DOT would get the stone and how this wold be disassembled and re-assembled perfectly."

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