Transportation officials just replaced the bridge connecting Morris and Somerset counties along Route 202 in what has to be record time, at least in New Jersey.
After a full closure for less than 10 days, the bridge just north of the Olde Mill Inn in Harding is .
While the closure inconvenienced drivers along the busy highway for the last week, it's still better than six months of complete or intermittent closures, which is what it could have taken to complete the work.
In this case, state officials accommodated local ones concerned about the effect the bridge work was going to have on local businesses and the resulting solution was good for all.
Built in 1924, the bridge carried about 10,000 vehicles a day over the Passaic River between Bernards Township in Somerset and Harding in Morris. It is one of the 670 Jersey bridges considered "structurally deficient," according to Transportation for America, a group advocating for smarter spending of public dollars on transportation projects.
To keep driver inconvenience to a minimum, workers were on site beginning last March doing preparatory tasks. The state kept traffic moving on the bridge between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. throughout the preliminary construction work. Last week, while they closed the span, they installed a pre-cast concrete replacement. There is more to do, but workers will finish the job while cars drive by across the new bridge.
Originally, the work was to have been done in the fall, but it was pushed to last week to further minimize the disruption because traffic volume on the road declines during the summer when people are on vacation.
These kinds of accommodations are exactly what busy New Jersey roads need to accomplish required repairs while keeping traffic moving.
Too often, it seems, lanes are closed or ramps are shut completely for months at a time or longer, and for much of the time, no work is even being done as crews are not on site at night or on weekends.
Or, sometimes work is done at night or on weekends when there is more traffic. Consider the last concerts Bruce Springsteen played at the Meadowlands. The sold-out shows let out after 11 p.m. and thousands of drivers crawled out of the parking lots hoping for a quick ride home on the New Jersey Turnpike because they had to get to work the next day. Instead, they continued to creep along at a snail's pace because that is the time chosen to set up lane closures for nighttime construction along the toll road.
Accomplishing work on the busy Turnpike at night to minimize slowdowns for daily commuters is smart. Scheduling that work to begin at the exact time sold-out shows were emptying thousands onto the road is stupid.
Undoubtedly, every New Jersey driver can point to at least a dozen poorly timed construction projects that made them late for work or school or some other appointment.
It's unclear whether the $3 million Route 202 project cost more because of the way it was conducted, but if it did, as long as the additional cost was not astronomical, it was worth it.
New Jersey needs to maintain the roads and bridges, keeping them safe for motorists at the lowest cost possible. Sometimes, traffic issues and drivers' needs may bump the "lowest" cost a little higher and that's just fine.
Whenever possible, the example of the Route 202 bridge should become the norm.