US issues FONSI for big Delaware River I-95 bridge rebuild north of Trenton NJ
By Peter Samuel
2012-06-18: Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) have received the federal OK for the rebuild of the Scudder Falls Bridge and modernization of the Interstate on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the river. This is Commission's largest current capital project.
The Federal Highway Administration has issued a Finding Of No Significant Impact (or FONSI) as requested by the DRJTBC.
FHWA says the documentation provided by DRJTBC show "there is no practicable alternative" to the project as proposed and that DRJTBC has committed to "all practicable ,easures to minimize harm to natural, cultural and socioeconomic resources."
The environmental documents "have been independently evaluated by (FHWA) and determined to discuss adequately and accurately the need, environmental issues, and impacts..."
FHWA takes full responsibility for the "accuracy, scope and content" of the environmental assessment and addendum, says a letter from an official of the Pennsylvania division of FHWA.
"Giant step" from concept toward reality - exec-director
In a statement DRJTBC chief executive Frank McCartney called the FONSI "an eagerly awaited regulatory green light" and he said it shifts the project "out of the concept phase and moves a giant step closer to becoming reality."
DRJTBC has been studying the bridge rebuild and doing public outreach for about nine years and the approved FONSI application covers some 892 pages that is available at the commission website.
The existing 4-lane bridge opened in 1961 and comprises eight spans of 180ft, 55m using steel plate girder. It carries an average 57,000 vehicles/day somewhat beyond the point where 2x3 travel lanes are recommended by traffic engineers.
The bridge has been maintained in good condition for its age but its design makes it vulnerable to single point failures. With a deck of 56ft, 17m width it lacks full breakdown shoulders.
It is functionally obsolete in that it has interchange ramps close by on both banks of the river and lacks the auxiliary lanes to handle entering and exiting traffic without sudden merges an lane changes. It also lacks any pedestrian or bicycle lane.
170ft of deck vs 56ft
The approved plan provides for two close spaced spans with a total of 6 travel lanes, 3 auxiliary lanes to connect the interchange ramps, breakdown shoulder each side of each direction of roadway plus a pedestrian/bicycle lane or 170ft, 52m of deck width - three times the existing bridge deck.
The old span will be dismantled after the first span of the new bridge is opened alongside it, and then the second span built in its place.
The present old span received tax based grants and has never been tolled. The new bridge will be financed by DRJTBC without any tax money and will be tolled - using gantry-borne transponder (E-ZPass) readers and license plate imaging for cashless all-electronic tolling.
This highway is presently classified I-95 but it is a tag end of a never-finished section through Princeton.
It will be redesignated I-295 when the Pennsylvania Turnpike completes a major interchange rebuild at its far eastern end (downriver) and allows I-95 to cross directly to the Pearl Harbor spur of the New Jersey Turnpike, then north to New York City on the Turnpike.
The Scudder Falls Bridge and highway on either side is really a northern bypass of the Trenton area and a connector from Philadelphia and the Penn Pike to NJ/US1, Princeton and New Brunswick. Its traffic will depend in part on success in improving traffic flow on NJ/US1, presently a congested surface arterial with lots of signature Jersey 'jug handle' intersections.
The planning for the Scudder Falls replacement assumed growth in traffic over the 25 year planning period of 30%, which for the moment appears high.
The governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania have asked DRJTBC to do the project as a competitive public private partnership involving a toll concession that would minimized the need for new DRJTBC debt. DRJTBC has been studying that.
A month back some johnnie-come-lately opposition surfaced - an unlikely alliance of fiscal conservatives, anti-tollers and environmentalists - but they don't appear to have gained much political traction.