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Scudders Falls Bridge to Beyond Reality

Date : Wed, 27 Jun 2012 12:08:25 -0400

For Immediate Release
June 18, 2012 Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club Director, 609-558-9100

Bridge to Beyond Reality

The Federal Highway Administration today released a "Finding of No Significant Impact" in an environemntal review of the Scudder Falls Bridge project on Route I-95.The Sierra Club believes that this project in its current form hurts the environment, is a waste of money and does not address the transportation needs of the region. The expansion will only lead to more sprawl and air pollution, while at the same time impacting our water and filling in wetlands.The bridge is expected to cost $330 million.The Bridge to Nowhere that would have been twice as high and three times longer only cost a few million more, $398 million.

"The Federal Highway Administration never met a highway or bridge project they did not like.This project will have a significant impact on the wallets as well as increasing sprawl, traffic and overdevelopment," said *NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. * The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) has proposed to widen the bridge to 9 lanes with 14 foot shoulders as well as add a bike and pedestrian path. A toll will also be added. This project will make the Scudder Falls Bridge twice as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge. With costs soaring to over $300 million dollars, we should call this the Golden Plate Bridge and it goes from 9 lines down to four on the Pennsylvania side.

"This bridge will go from 9 lanes down to four in Pennsylvania. What do we need all these extra lanes for? A skateboard park? The shoulder will be 14 feet to allow for buses to pull over and let people out.What is the point of that since there will not be any park and rides on a bridge?" asked Jeff Tittel. "They should call this the ARC Bridge because it is too big, too expensive, and in the wrong place." While we agree that Scudder Falls Bridge needs to be modernized and be made more effective, the current proposal imposes too many environmental impacts without solving the problems. This project is in violation of state and federal laws. The environmental assessment is wholly inadequate and fails to assess the real impacts this project will have. A further Environmental Impact Statement is warranted.

Some negative environmental impacts include:

 * The taking of valuable park land and covering over the Delaware and     Raritan Canal will affect water quality. More than one million     people in Central New Jersey get their drinking water from the canal.   * This project would increase flooding along the Delaware River, which     already has its share of flooding problems.   * The widening of this bridge to the proposed size will fill in     wetlands, impacting the spawning habitat for the short-nosed     sturgeon and other endangered species.   * The filling in of wetlands and flood plains combined with the taking     of parkland and preserved farmland will cause an increase in both     noise and air pollution.   * Air pollution will also result from the additional traffic on the     bridge.   * The view scapes of the historic Washington Crossing Park and     Bowman's Tower will be blighted by this large and unnecessary bridge.   * The project will promote sprawl and overdevelopment without an     adequate plan to deal with that growth.   * The current proposal is in violation of both federal and state laws,     including the Federal Clean Water Act, Federal Clean Air Act, the     National Environmental Policy Act, the New Jersey Clean Air Act, New     Jersey Global Warming Response Act, New Jersey Clean Water Act, as     well as the NJ State Plan. Not only is this proposal expensive and harmful to the environment, it will not alleviate traffic problems. For travelers heading south, Route I-95 will go from 5 lanes on the bridge down to 2 lanes once entering Pennsylvania. Vehicles during rush hour will be bottlenecking once leaving the bridge, causing traffic jams and accidents. Because a toll is being added, local traffic will go to instead to the free bridges, like Calhoun Street or Washington Crossing. This will lead to more traffic on older, worn out bridges and congestion in our neighborhoods and towns. There is not a need to expand the bridge to the size proposed. The data used when planning this widening project was collected in 2003. Since then, people are driving less. Traffic projections have gone down and all major toll roads are seeing fewer drivers. More importantly, the DRJTBC did not consider the change in traffic patterns in the region. The addition of a new interchange on I-95 in Pennsylvania will allow drivers to access the New Jersey Turnpike at exit 6 in Burlington County.This interconnection between I-95 and the Turnpike is the reason why the state decided to widen the turnpike down to exit 6.The interchange will be open by the end of 2016 and the Turnpike itself is already being widened.This will divert cars and trucks from the stretch of I-95 where the Scudder Falls Bridge is located. Not only is the proposed bridge itself badly designed but access on and off the bridge will continue to be poor. On the New Jersey side, the proposal calls for a small circle roundabout followed by a diamond interchange, an idea that the public strongly dislikes. This will only cause confusion, accidents and traffic jams. The current design is bad enough -- this new proposal is similar to how it is now except for the added traffic circle. Even the proposed tolls for the project are poorly planned. In an attempt to avoid a backup at the toll booth, theDRJTBC is proposing a toll without booths.Drivers without E-Z Pass will have their picture taken as they go over the bridge and will be mailed a bill. The administrative costs of that process will be equal to the revenue generated from the toll. Also, many travelers from out of town will receive a bill and will likely be confused and simply not pay it.

"We should call this 'the bridge over the river why': why so big and why so expensive? Instead we should come up with a comprehensive traffic management solution for the area," Tittel said. We agree that the Scudder Falls Bridge needs to be repaired to get rid of some of the concerns and safety problems but this massive and expensive proposal is not the answer. There are some reasonable alternatives. The bridge could be redesigned with entrance ramps that actually merge onto the highway before the bridge, saving us tens of millions while making the interchanges safer and easier to navigate. Instead of widening the bridge by more than doubling its size, the DRJTBC could establish flex or reversible lanes that would allow more lanes to open up during rush hour. According to its own assessment, the DRJTBC estimates that even after the widening, the bridge will still function at level a D. Currently it is at level F. For all that money, we will see hardly any improvement and there will still be congestion problems because of the design. The only objective this bridge widening will accomplish is more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere while people will loose their houses and land in the process.

"This is beyond the Bridge to Nowhere, this is the Bridge Beyond Reality," said Tittel.

-- 
Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
609-656-7612
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Received on 2012-06-27 09:08:25

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