What to Know
Rehabbing the Route 495 bridge in New Jersey will take about 2.5 years, officials estimate
It will take so long because there are restrictions on when the contractor can conduct noisy construction work, along with other factors
The 495 bridge overhaul is expected to snarl eastbound traffic leading to the Lincoln Tunnel for the entirety of the multi-year project
Rehabbing the one-third mile Route 495 bridge connecting the Lincoln Tunnel to the New Jersey Turnpike will take two and a half years, the New Jersey Department of Transportation estimates.
That’s more time than it took to build a three-mile span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge from scratch. It’s also more time than it took to build the entire mile-long Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.
Why will it take so long to refurbish a much shorter segment of bridge in New Jersey?
For one, there are strict restrictions on when the contractor can conduct noisy construction work, according to Stephen Schapiro, a spokesman for NJ DOT. The pace of work is also throttled by the need to keep six of the eight lanes open to traffic at all times. He also said bad weather has the potential to slow the project.
“We’ve had some of the worst winters in recent memory in the past few years,” Schapiro said. “Hopefully that won’t be the case while we are doing this project because a lot of the work is temperature sensitive or we could have problems with wind.”
The 495 bridge overhaul is expected to snarl eastbound traffic leading to the Lincoln Tunnel for the entirety of the multi-year project. The contractor, a Trenton company called IEW Construction Corp, will keep two of the eight lanes of traffic closed so that workers can sequentially replace portions of the road deck.
During some of the most important phases of construction, workers will actually lift the structural pillars that form the base of the bridge off the ground. Eric Neu, the project’s supervising engineer, says the bases of those pillars have bearings that allow the bridge to sway just enough to handle vibrations and seismic events.
“What we’re going to do is jack up the bridge just a quarter of an inch or less, pull the old bearings out and put new modern bearings in,” Neu said.
For decades, the original construction plans for the nine-span viaduct were kept in the World Trade Center, but after the September 11 attacks, those plans were lost. That forced engineers to spend time cataloguing a jigsaw puzzle of steel plates and rivets. The fact that most steel on the bridge is exposed – not encased in concrete – made the reverse engineering process easier. But Schapiro said the steel underneath the road deck is still a major unknown.
“Once you start pulling that concrete deck off to see what’s underneath there, it’ll give us a sense – is this what we thought, what we anticipated?” Schapiro said.
If the project proves to be more complex than initially thought, or if the weather throws the contractor off track, the resulting delays could keep commuters frustrated for even longer than the two-and-a-half year estimate. At a news conference launching the bridge work, Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the contractor would face “very significant consequences” for missing deadlines, but she could not immediately say what those penalties would be.
IEW is slated to be paid $90 million dollar to rehab the bridge. An IEW representative declined to comment for this report, saying the contract forbids the firm from speaking to the media.