October 5, 2016

Completion of Valley Road Project On Hold Despite Fund Agreement

The recent news that Governor Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Speaker Vincent Prieto have reached an agreement on funding for New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund means that work may finally resume on stalled road projects across the state.

But completing one of those projects, the reconstruction of Valley Road, remains on hold while the 23-cent increase in the gasoline tax awaits approval.

On September 26, Princeton Council voted to delay the final paving of the road because going ahead with the project might have jeopardized a grant from of approximately $282,000 the New Jersey Department of Transportation. “If we proceed in light of the executive order, we could be entering into a violation of the order so we risk losing the grant,” Deanna Stockton, the town’s engineer, told Council. “So we recommend closing it down.”

Before Council voted, Mayor Liz Lempert warned that not going ahead with the project presented its own set of risks. “If we don’t do that and wait until there is money, which I assume would be in the spring when we’d be able to act on it, we risk damage to the sub-surface of the road,” she said, “which would be left exposed — especially if we have a really harsh winter.”

Ms. Stockton said that the road would be able to survive such a scenario. “All of the grades are in good shape to capture drainage,” she said. Council took her advice and voted to close the project down. Its status has not changed; at least for now.

“We’re talking through it,” Ms. Stockton said this week. “Because if the Legislature does in fact approve the gas tax, we would hope that it would go along with lifting the governor’s executive order. But we have not heard anything officially on that. If the order is lifted, we would like to try to move ahead. But if not, we will wait until next year.”

Mr. Christie shut down $3.5 billion in New Jersey road, bridge and rail projects on June 30. Some work was done on the Valley Road project using funds that did not come from the Transportation Trust Fund. Using money from the fund, the road reconstruction was supposed to be completed in August.

Also affected by the shutdown is work on the Carter Road bridge in Lawrence Township. Repairs and reconstruction of two historic bridges on Route 206 can’t start until the Carter Road project is finished, because it serves as the designated detour route. As a result, the bridges will not be repaired until next spring, Mayor Lempert was told by the state last August.

Late last month, Mercer County announced plans to sue the state and the Department of Transportation over the continued shutdown of road projects including the Carter Road bridge. At the September 26 Council meeting, Ms. Lempert suggested preparing a measure supporting the County’s action to sue.

Council meets again on Monday, October 10.