September 21, 2016

Mercer County Plans to Sue Over Stalled Bridge Projects

Fed up with the ongoing shutdown of transportation projects including the replacement of a bridge on Carter Road, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes has announced that the county has served a “notice of claim” against the State of New Jersey and the Department of Transportation.

The stalled projects, which also include a bridge replacement in Hamilton Township, a new security fence at Trenton-Mercer Airport, and bridge rehabilitations in Hopewell Township, are the result of an executive order by Governor Chris Christie on June 30. All ongoing work funded by the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund Authority, which the State said would run out of money by the end of summer, were immediately shut down. On July 6, the DOT’s acting commissioner Richard Hammer issued a companion shutdown order requiring that all contractors secure projects and cease active work on
projects funded by the transportation fund effective July 9.

“Mercer County has taken this initial step because we feel the State has breached its contractual obligations with the County to provide the allocated funding for these projects,” Mr. Hughes said in a press release. “The governor’s executive order has put a tremendous strain on our residents and businesses by leaving unfinished projects in limbo.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said she supports the county’s action. “The governor is acting in a completely irresponsible way by blocking progress on vital road and bridge projects that already have had their funding approved,” she said in an email. “The interruptions in work are causing traffic headaches, are hurting local businesses, and are running up costs for municipal and county taxpayers. What’s especially aggravating is that the governor either doesn’t seem to recognize the seriousness of the situation or doesn’t care. He’s spending his time with Donald Trump instead of focusing his efforts on finding a solution.”

Halting the Carter Road project, which is in Lawrence Township, has had the ripple effect of causing the postponement of reconstruction of two historic bridges on Route 206 in Princeton until next spring, because Carter Road is the designated detour route for that work.

Since the county had ordered materials such as beams and guide rails before the shutdown orders went into effect, there is a financial consequence as well. “It costs money to stop a project and it costs money to start a project,” Mr. Hughes said, adding that the county appealed to the DOT for permission to move forward with the Carter Road project using TTFA funds but was unsuccessful.

“The governor and the legislature need to find a reasonable way to restore the Transportation Trust Fund as soon as possible,” Mr. Hughes said. “Projects have been on hold for more than two months now and people are hurting.”