During Monday’s Hightstown Borough Council Meeting, Darek Hahn, chairman of the Greenway Pedestrian Bridge Committee, explained during a presentation that the bridge project, while off to a good start, is slowly running out of steam.
Faced with challenges unearthed along the way, the committee now needs $150,000, funds they hope the borough can help procure to complete the project.
“What we bring you tonight is, I won’t say the most wonderful news, but it’s good news at the same time that we have a plan to replace that eyesore,” Hahn said.
The Greenway Pedestrian Bridge project came about after the footbridge that spanned the Peddie Lake Dam on Hightstown’s North Main Street was taken down for safety reasons a few years ago.
“It’s a big hole in the middle of the town–down the middle of the wonderful park,” Hahn said.
The original scope of the plan did not include improvements outside the dam structure itself, Hahn said, and predicted costs at that time totaled around $75,000, most of which has already been raised through fundraisers over the past two years.
However, Hahn explained that between 2010 and 2011, the American Disabilities Act underwent revisions, and it is now necessary to make the bridge area accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, which means a hefty cost increase.
“We’re now talking ramps, railings, and all kinds of stuff that we didn’t plan on,” Hahn said.
Additionally, after an inspection of the bridge’s abutments that came as a result of Tropical Storm Irene, engineers deemed it vital that either the abutments are reinforced, or that the bridge land outside the dam structure.
Upon advisement from Borough Engineer Carmela Roberts and Lippincott Jacobs Consulting Engineers, who evaluated the proposed structure to determine the bridge footing placement and designed the footing, the committee chose to double the size of the bridge rather than have to alter the abutments. Hahn said this was a cheaper option, and doubling the size of the bridge didn’t mean doubling the price.
The project scope, therefore, increased greatly, Hahn said, requiring more funds. $40,000 of the estimated $75,000 raised thus far was spent on engineering, design, and sealed drawings. Ninety percent of the required drawings for the project are signed and sealed, he said.
With the engineering process completed, the committee has now come to the site work portion of the project. Once ground is broken, Hahn estimates it would take between 60 and 90 days to finish the project. By incorporating an arched design, the new bridge would sit above the 100-year flood plain, Hahn said.
Hahn said the committee has considered a number of ways to keep costs down, including arranging the sidewalks in such a way that would reduce the necessary number of railings, and reducing the number of light poles.
“So there’s a number of things we’ve been trying to do to try to save some money in this process already,” Hahn said.
However, the overall project costs have risen to about $226,000. Subtracting monies already raised, the committee needs about $150,000 to continue.
“Unfortunately that’s much bigger than any of us expected,” Hahn said. “And I can see some of your faces, and I understand – we felt the same way.”
Hahn requested the council discuss bonding the $150,000. He said that for the average taxpayer in town, this would mean an extra $8 to $10 per household per year over nine years.
Hahn said the bridge is an important way to share the history of Hightstown. For example, local artists created medallions that would be placed on the bridge. Each medallion cost around $7,000 and was donated by Hightstown residents.
Built between 1923 and 1925, the bridge was erected after a mill fire in 1920 destroyed all the wooden buildings that stood between Franklin Street and what is now Tavern on the Lake. The land was given to the town by a group of local businessmen and became what is now known as Memorial Park.
Before it was taken down, the bridge stood for more than 80 years and was considered a landmark in the center of town.
“Obviously we owe it to our kids and to ourselves to keep improving the town,” Hahn said. “This is a nice step in the right direction.”
The council agreed that the project is worthwhile and would benefit the borough.
When Hightstown Borough Mayor Steven Kirson asked the council if they would be willing to postpone the project if funding were not an option, Councilwoman Susan Bluth responded, “I think that would be shameful,” followed by Councilwoman Selena Bibens’ response, “that’s not an option.”
However, while the council supports the spirit of the project, some had a harder time digesting the cost to the borough if the project were to get bonded. Councilwoman Lynne Woods said she would rather donate $90 of her own money than support the borough bonding $150,000.
Councilman Robert Thibault agreed to take the lead on pursuing state and federal grants with the committee, and a bonding ordinance may go before the council in the beginning of February.
Roberts noted that if the ordinance were to pass and a bond were issued, that did not require the borough to use the full amount of the bond, and therefore additional funding could still supplement the monies needed.
Those wishing to donate to the project may contact Hahn at firstname.lastname@example.org, Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Patrick Duncan at email@example.com, or Greenway Bridge Committee Secretary John Hostetler at firstname.lastname@example.org.