Commissioner Kolluri addresses the need to replace the Route 36 Highlands Bridge
The Route 36 Highlands Bridge is critical to the safety and vitality of our transportation network and to the economic vibrancy of Monmouth County. In recent days, some concerns have been raised about the need to replace the bridge. I understand these concerns. However, I believe we must move forward with replacing the existing bridge, which is structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.
After reviewing the structural, environmental, operational, socio-economic and cost impacts—and based on the professional judgment of New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) bridge engineers—I have concluded that the existing movable bridge should be replaced with a fixed-span structure. This decision was based on three key considerations—safety, reliability and cost efficiency—and I would like to take this opportunity to outline the factors that led me to this conclusion.
Safety – This project is an especially high priority for us, not only due to the poor condition of the bridge, but because Route 36 is the official coastal evacuation route for Sea Bright and the Gateway National Recreational Area (Sandy Hook). At 75 years old, the existing bridge is at the end of its service life and is ranked eighth on the list of worst movable bridges in the state. The span has experienced significant structural deterioration and will soon be subject to weight restrictions if it remains open. In addition, the bridge lacks shoulders and adequate accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Reliability – The existing bridge is subject to frequent mechanical failures, as well as closures on hot days when the expansion of steel makes it impossible to open or close the bridge. The total length of these closures in recent years adds up to six days, including one failure at the height of summer travel season that resulted in four-hour traffic delays. This level of reliability is unacceptable for an official evacuation route.
Cost efficiency – A story in Sunday’s Press inaccurately reported that there has been a recent increase in the cost of the project. Not so. The estimated overall project cost remains about $120 million, of which $99.5 million would be spent on construction. While this may seem like a lot of money, a replacement bridge is the most prudent course of action. The state spent nearly one million dollars last year alone to keep the existing bridge in service. Repairing it will cost more than $50 million, and could only be expected to add about ten years to its life. After that, the bridge will still need to be replaced—at a significantly higher cost.
A new bridge will enhance safety with wider travel lanes and shoulders for motorists, physically separated sidewalks and bike paths as well as a center median. The additional capacity will accommodate more vehicles per hour than the existing bridge, easing congestion. Moreover, as a fixed-span, the new bridge will not be subject to closure due to mechanical failures or temperature, providing a reliable and safe evacuation route for coastal areas.
From the earliest stages, this project has enjoyed an unprecedented level of cooperation and partnership between NJDOT and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection-State Historic Preservation Office. The communities that stand to benefit from the new bridge—Sea Bright and Highlands—have passed a total of five resolutions of support over the life of the qproject.
I have always said that NJDOT's projects must meet strict criteria in the areas of consensus, fiscal accountability and safety. This project meets all of those requirements and should move forward.
I am convinced that we have taken all responsible steps to select the most feasible and viable alternative. It is in the public’s best interest to advance this project.
Commissioner of Transportation