LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Planners and engineers from Passaic County were recently on hand at a special meeting at the Little Falls Civic Center to discuss the installment of a bridge that will be placed over the Peckman River in order to complete the Morris Canal Greenway, which spans hundreds of miles throughout Northern New Jersey. 

The goal of the project is to create a passive recreational pathway along the route of the Morris Canal, according to Jason Simmons, senior environmental planner for the Passaic County Planning Department. Considered a historic site, the Morris Canal was started in 1831 and stretched approximately 102 miles long. It became one of the state's first major transportation systems, which was eventually overshadowed by the railroad system, and then by interstate highways.

However, there are still many areas of the canal route that are still intact and the project's planners want to turn the former route of the canal into a recreation corridor that will transport hikers and bicyclists. Passaic County planners want to open additional sections of the canal route for public use, in order to bring the project to different communities and create a county-wide system. Fifty-seven percent of the route is already accessible with several municipal canal parks and bicycle paths in Little Falls, Woodland Park and Clifton. The study has also been adopted as part of the Passaic County Master Plan, as well as the township's plan.

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Several exhibits were set up inside the civic center at the meeting, some of which entailed the history of the Morris Canal, the Morris Canal Greenway route, and the Peckman River Crossing timeline. There was also a display of several types of bridges that could span the connection, along with a suggestion box for the public's ideas and Post It stickers for attendees to indicate their preferred design preferences.

According to Simmons, the bridge will create a connection in Little Falls where there is currently no connecting walkway.

"This current disconnect is preventing about a mile and a half of continuous Greenway walkway," said Simmons. "Once we get the Browertown Road section, which we are in the process of having authorized, that's going to run from Passaic Valley High School, right around Stewart Avenue to Mount Pleasant Avenue in Woodland Park, which will add additional miles of dedicated bicycle lanes, signage, safety improvements."

He added there are also plans in the works to create a pocket park at Lackawanna Avenue and Browertown Road.

"There is an existing piece of a towpath on that road where county planner did a land swap to acquire it," Simmons noted.

He added that federal funding for the bridge was approved in 2012. Simmons highlighted the Peckman River Crossing construction timeline exhibit for those in attendance.

"We have a timeline for this particular bridge project that marks all the milestones throughout the project's history and we anticipate having it authorized by December," he said, adding the project would need to be completed in two years in order for the county to retain the federal grant money and prevent it from expiring. 

Simmons further added that the project was budgeted for approximately $700,000. The preliminary bridge was estimated to span 150 to 200 feet or more, at worst case scenario.

"However, survey work determined that the bridge would span 100 feet, so the amount is more than enough to cover that and any additional costs," he explained, adding that any unused grant money would go back to the federal government.

"We have a preliminary estimate based on the current plan," he said. "We hope to have the timeline ready for the grant's guidelines once we have all the construction documents for the NJDOT, which include the specifications, bids and permits."

Simmons said county officials plan to review the input and feedback made by those who attended the public meeting at their own meeting scheduled for this week.

According to Jonathan Pera, principal engineer for the Passaic County Engineers' Office, the pier-less bridge will span 100 feet, with a walking span of 10 feet. It will consist of reinforced concrete, prefabricated steel and wood.

Renea Shapiro, founder of the Little Falls Aliiance for a Better Community (LFABC) said the addition of bridge is a good idea, which will help with safe connectivity for those who want a continuous route through the canal pathway.

Mayor James Damiano said the event was great opportunity for residents to discuss any concerns and make any comments they may have with the project.

"The bridge that is being discussed is part of not only the county’s master plan, but the township’s as well and helps move us one step closer towards achieving that goal. This bridge will assist in connecting many miles of this greenway and is just part of the effort at historic and open space preservation by both the county and the township."