Wherever a river bisects populated areas, adequate transportation between both banks is critical. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Christie administration's failure to alleviate the congestion across the Hudson River into Manhattan. But Burlington County has its own, albeit smaller, crisis where the Rancocas Creek cuts across the county.
The Centerton Bridge, which was built in 1903, carried 14,000 vehicles per day across the river between Willingboro and Mount Laurel. Earlier this year, the bridge was abruptly closed when it was determined to be unsafe for vehicular traffic. Even before the closure, the bridge was inadequate, with one narrow lane in each direction making navigating through opposing traffic a test of driving skills.
Despite undergoing $6 million in repairs several years ago, the only viable alternative is to totally replace the bridge according to a report from the county engineer. The GOP-controlled Freeholder Board has made the tentative decision to simply allow the bridge to close and not replace it. They claim the stretch of I-295 that crosses the river a few miles down the road is adequate for the increased traffic.
As you will hear in the video (below the fold), a group of concerned citizens have criticized that decision. Many drivers are reluctant to drive on the high-speed interstate and negotiate the tricky exits and lane crossings designated as the detour for the Centerton Bridge.
This crumbling bridge is not the only one in New Jersey that needs attention. But there's more to this. The community of Willingboro is heavily Democratic and has a large African-American population. The freeholders or governor can garner very few Republican votes by providing Willingboro residents with easy access to the numerous destinations across the creek in Mount Laurel and Moorestown.
The GOP Freeholders argue that the cost of a new bridge is about the same as the total annual bridge and road repair budget. This argument is misleading. Even though their numbers may be correct, typically the cost for capital infrastructure projects like bridges is amortized over years or decades. The decrepit state of the bridge has been known for years, and Republicans have controlled the county for decades. We know the county can't go it alone. That's why federal and state dollars are available for assistance. Yet, it took prodding from Democratic Freeholder Aimee Belgard to even get the GOP majority to agree to request assistance from the state. Perhaps the majority is reluctant to press our governor to fix his mishandling of the Transportation Trust Fund.
Recently, Senate President Sweeney visited the Centerton Bridge to point out the need for fixing the Transportation Trust Fund. Luke Margolis, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Office issued this statement today:
"As the Senate President saw for himself when touring the Centerton Road Bridge last year, this bridge, like hundreds of others across New Jersey is desperately in need of replacement. In fact, this bridge is one of two on the same road listed as structurally deficient by the USDOT. The Senator believes this is a public safety issue. He urges the Governor to work with the legislature to find a long term solution to the Transportation Trust Fund, so that critical projects like this can finally be resolved."
Along those lines, today Assemblyman Troy Singleton, in whose district the Centerton Bridge lies, issued this statement:
"The closing of the Centerton Bridge is a real life example of the Governor's poor stewardship of our state's transportation infrastructure. Several years after Governor Christie made a pronouncement that he would present a plan to put our Transportation Trust Fund on solid footing moving forward, the lack of a ANY proposal from the administration underscores that this issue is no longer a priority to him and New Jersey residents continue to suffer because of it"
There may not be much hope for relief as long as the Republicans continue to eschew infrastructure improvements. But even small projects like the Centerton Bridge take time to plan and complete. Now is the time to start the replacement process.