Construction on the long-awaited Route 7/Wittpen Bridge in Jersey City should conclude in 2022. (George Harms Construction Company photo)
Construction on the long-awaited Route 7/Wittpen Bridge in Jersey City should conclude in 2022, according to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), which is overseeing the project. But the agency also said vehicle traffic could be moving over the bridge as early as next year.
In November 2011, work began on the replacement of the existing bridge linking Jersey City and Kearny over the Hackensack River, along with new approach ramps and the realignment of Fish House Road – primarily a truck route serving industries on the west side of the river.
The new 3,450-ft.-long structure, estimated to cost $493.2 million by the NJDOT, will rise just north of the existing vertical lift bridge, which will then be demolished.
Weakened by the increased weight and speed of vehicles over time, the 90-year-old, 2,169-ft.-long Wittpen Bridge was been renovated four times between 1953 and 1992. Nonetheless, it has been rated "structurally deficient and in an advanced state of deterioration" by federal highway engineers.
In December 2019, NJDOT spokesman Steve Schapiro told NJ.com the delay was due to "… more challenging work to install the machinery, cables and counterweights needed to lift the center portion of the bridge [the steel deck] to permit ships to pass underneath it."
Additionally, Schapiro blamed harsh winter weather in 2018 for contributing to the lengthening of the construction timetable.
As many as 52,000 vehicles traverse the existing Wittpenn Bridge on an average weekday, and motorists must contend with narrow 10-ft.-wide lanes in each direction with no separation barrier, an open steel grid deck that makes it hard to maneuver in rain or snow, no shoulders on the bridge or its approaches, and ramps that make it hard to speed up and slow down.
Here's what the new bridge project will offer:
- New east and west approaches extending nearly 1 mi. from the western end of Charlotte Avenue in Jersey City to the east of the New Jersey Transit Morris & Essex Line overpass in Kearny. These byways will replace the Fish House Road interchange but keep the ramp exit to St. Paul's Avenue
- Four 12-ft.-wide lanes (two in each direction), two 12-ft.-wide auxiliary lanes, two outer and inner shoulders, a sidewalk, a median barrier and parapets
- Improved connections to Routes 1 & 9 in Jersey City to the east and to Route 7, Fish House Road, and local roads in Kearny to the west. This infrastructure — designed to last 100 years — will use decking like the kind used on New York's Whitestone Bridge and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge; it's being used on this project for the first time in the Garden State
- An additional 45 ft. of vertical clearance in the closed position, thereby reducing the need for bridge openings from 300 to an estimated 63 annually
- Two additional lanes on Fish House Road (one in each direction) to improve traffic mobility. The road also will be realigned to the west of the PSE&G electrical transmission tower so that the utility won't need to park maintenance vehicles in the roadway to access the tower.
The new bridge also requires the addition of three river piers for support, according to general contractor George Harms Construction Co., of Howell, N.J.
An existing fender system (concrete piles and timber placed between bridge channel piers to help guide vessels through those channels) is being extended to the north to protect the new mainline structure.
Work completed so far, according to Schapiro, includes the river piers, fender system, Fish House Road pump station and several eastbound approach spans for the new bridge.
Still under construction are the new vertical lift bridge span and towers, the east and west approach spans to the bridge, the relocation of Fish House Road, flyover ramps to Fish House Road, the ramp to Newark Avenue and a new embankment where the relocated roadway and ramps will connect the new bridge to the roads. Extensive work relocating various utilities also remains to be done.