BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The only entrance road into heavily-used Pleasant Valley Park might seem a bit unusual for those heading in for the first time _ cars and bikes must slow down to cross a steady stream flowing across a low point in the roadway. 

At times of the year, the stream might dry up _ but heavy rains can also cause it to get deep enough for the township to have erected signs in either direction that warn, "Do Not Attempt to Drive Across When Water is High, May Result in Permanent Engine Damage." 

Three or four alternative plans for building a culvert to bypass the stream crossing were presented to the Township Committee last week, and are posted on the Bernards Township website. Officials said construction might take place in 2019 or 2020.

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Mayor John Carpenter noted that the trickling waterway includes treated effluent from the Bernards Township's Sewerage Authority's treatment plant.

Cost of $500,000 or more

Carpenter and other township officials acknowledged that a proposal to spend about a half-million dollars on a culvert "really expensive." 

But, the mayor added, "It's not really safe." Carpenter said local kids routinely ride their bikes through the stream, which can swell after storms. The report posted online by architects French & Parrello Associates referred to two recent incidents in which vehicles were flooded, resulting in property damage but no physical harm.

Township Engineer Tom Timko noted that Pleasant Valley Park, located off Valley Road, is one of the main parks in the township. He referred to the the water-crossed entrance road as "primitive."

A playground, several athletic fields, a picnic area and outdoor amphitheater are among the recreational facilities beyond the part of the entranceway crossed by the stream, although the exit to the parking lot to Pleasant Valley Pool is before the crossing. "If we had another entrance, we would just shut this down," Timko said.

Nevertheless, after hearing the architect's presentation, Township Committeewoman Carol Bianchi said she was "totally surprised at the cost."

The plans outlined variations on plans for bypass entrances over a culvert, with a sidewalk for pedestrians on one or both sides of the driveway. A precast culvert with a sidewalk on one side would probably be the most economical option, but even then the project would cost a "half-million dollars-plus," Timko said. Another $50,000 has been earmarked for consulting fees, officials said.

The most expensive option, with sidewalks on both sides of the bypass and funds to offset wetland property, adds up to $675,000. 

Some version of the projects would require the township to apply to the state for permission to cross wetlands, said Jon Moren, transportation engineer for French & Parrello. "Aesthetically, we would make sure the bridge would be in keeping with the park," he added.

Jon Surano, who said he lives nearby and is also a Republican candidate for Township Committee, said the need for the bypass is more than just a matter of aesthetics. "That area has the ability to flood rather quickly," he said. "It's a project of necessity and safety."