December 23, 2015

It Costs a Lot to Build a Dangerous Road: Thoughts on Reconstruction of the S Bend

To the Editor:

In 2011, West Windsor reconstructed the S bend of Alexander Road near the boundary line with Princeton, after a lawsuit involving the fatality of a teenage girl. Attempt was made to reduce the sharp curvature and to properly bank the curves. The road was designed, built, accepted, and paid for by West Windsor, with a $190,000 grant from the state. The total cost of the project was roughly $938,000; including $61,000 for design and $43,000 for construction management and inspection by a hired consultant.

Being a civil engineer, it was apparent the first time I drove on the new road, that it was constructed incorrectly, with numerous defects, but most importantly, the road was banked in the wrong direction. The last bend to the right before reaching the canal, is sloped downward toward the outside of the turn, contrary to proper road design. This has a tendency to throw cars toward the outside of the turn, across the center line into the path of oncoming traffic, especially in wet or slippery conditions. In my opinion, the road, as constructed, is now more dangerous than before construction, and there is little doubt that another accident will occur.

A meeting was finally held with the mayor and Township officials to discuss the dangerous conditions. The officials dismissed the conditions as minor, and refused to meet on site. The mayor acknowledged that his son had an accident on the road, yet stated that there is no more money to fix the road.

Township officials will argue that the New Jersey Department of Transportation issued a design exception for the project allowing the road to be banked at a lesser degree than is required by the design standards. That did not allow the road to be banked in the incorrect direction. If a design exception is issued, it must then be followed properly. A design exception is not a license to build incorrectly.

New Jersey DOT officials lay the responsibility for proper construction on the Township, and refuse to meet on site.

Typically, an independent surveyor prepares as-built (record) drawings showing how the road was actually built to verify compliance with the design plans. The Township officials made recommendation to the Council for final payment to the contractor a month and half prior to even having the as-built drawings in their possession. The as-built drawings, which show discrepancies, were prepared by a surveyor hired by the contractor.

A review of the Township’s project files reveals lack of oversight and management. Critical documents are absent and crucial steps are not mentioned in the available inspection reports.

Taxpayers should be asking West Windsor many questions and should demand that Township officials take corrective action to eliminate the dangers on the road. Portions of the road need to be rebuilt to eliminate the dangerous condition. The Township is now on notice that a roadway defect exists and therefore cannot seek immunity from liability when the next accident and lawsuit takes place.

Martin Lyons, P.E.

Montadale Drive