SUMMIT, NJ - After a nearly three-year long shutdown, the Morris Ave Bridge has reopened to cars, bikes, and pedestrians. With fanfare and excitement, the first cars made their way across the span after a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 29 at 5:30 pm.
Elected city and state officials, City staff, and community members gathered on the bridge, as the early 'crossers' honked their horns for the crowd, which cheered and applauded.
The crowd of about 50 was happy to get their bridge back. Summit Mayor Nora Radest and Assemblywoman Nancy Muñoz addressed the crowd. Radest discussed the collaborative efforts spanning several administrations that were required to plan and administer the repair. Muñoz talked about improved safety, particularly for Summit’s school children who walk across the bridge. New Jersey Senator Tom Kean was also in attendance, as were Councilmen Beth Little, Marjorie Fox, Mary Ogden, Stephen Bowman, and former Councilman Dr. Robert Rubino.
City of Summit Communications Officer Amy Cairns said that no one from New Jersey Transit was in attendance as they were “focusing on the budget crisis.”
The New Jersey Transit project, which began on August 11, 2015, was expected initially to take 18 months to complete. The goal was to improve the bridge's structural integrity; increase load carrying capacity; and improve traffic, pedestrian and railroad safety.
It took a while to get there.
About eleven months after it began in 2015, then Governor Chris Christie signed Executive Order 210 which put an immediate halt to “non-essential” projects funded by the Transportation Trust Fund. A brokered settlement, where the gasoline tax was increased by 23 cents-per-gallon to 37-cents-per-gasoline took effect November 1, 2016; this tax increase restored funding to the financially-depleted state Transportation Trust Fund. That state-imposed shutdown lasted about four months.
The 113-year-old bridge was used by the state as an example of New Jersey’s crumbling infrastructure when the project began. The Department of Transportation deemed it was too dangerous to allow trucks and cars to continue to cross it. About 14,000 vehicles crossed the heavily-traveled expanse daily, they said.
Fast forward through some tough snowy winters and wet springs that tacked numerous small delays onto the completion of the project. Commuter train schedules also limited the times when the construction crews were active.
In April 2018, Mayor Nora Radest said that the bridge was structurally complete, but that utilities, including the sewer lines, needed dry weather to be reconnected below the bridge.
She said, “Morris Avenue runs through the heart of Summit and having this section of roadway available again will help ease traffic congestion in a very busy part of town.”
Around Summit, residents took to social media to express delight.
Jacqueline Robinson said on Facebook, “I’ll be happy for the city buses to get off Summit Avenue ( hopefully!!) and back on Morris Avenue! They have been a huge hazard... the spot where they turn onto Summit from Broad Street is way too narrow and the bus drivers then go barreling down past Chase Bank. It makes your heart stop every time. I’m glad this ridiculous delay in bridge construction is coming to an end... finally!”
Karen Milne-Home also wrote on Facebook, “I think the new Tappan Zee bridge literally took as long to build as this repair!!”
Camellia Lowry-Redmerski said, “Construction started when my oldest started middle school and now he graduated middle school. I feel like I am going to forget that it is open for the first few weeks / months.”
Melissa Phillips said, “We live on Norwood Avenue, close to the corner of Norwood and DeForest. It has been a two- year-long nightmare and we are thankful nobody has been killed at that intersection. Traffic congestion in the morning and when all the schools ended every day was scary. I saw way too many near misses of people trying to cross the crosswalks. I did see and help with a few needless car accidents. Fortunately injuries were minor. I for one will be glad when the bridge reopens. Too much truck and bus traffic was rerouted through residential areas. Inconvenience is one thing but safety should always be a priority!”
On the City of Summit Facebook page, sentiment was greatly mixed, as many communicators called out New Jersey Transit for celebrating the conclusion of the project with a ceremony when it took so much longer than expected.
Dennis Allocco wrote, “Let’s just open the bridge! No need to recognize this long overdue albatross with pomp and circumstance.”
Many, like Loren Hamilton, agreed. “An embarrassment. no need to celebrate with a ribbon cutting.”
The City responded, “Yes, no parade. No pomp and circumstance. The city is committed to opening the bridge to traffic as soon as the contractor clears out.”
Francoise Owarish is happy to say goodbye to the deluge of drivers who typically did not travel our roads. “Bravo, “ she wrote. “I’ll attend happily driving over the three-year awaited bridge with a happy dance in my heart. I really hope we all understand what a gift that bridge is to us all, what a main vein it is for us all!!! I have hated “hated” seeing our beautiful downtown consumed with vehicles with drivers that aren’t polite, rude as heck, and clearly not part of our community, I say good riddance to them and happy to put them all right back on track on Morris Avenue and keep it them there and hello my downtown Summit, free of bus, craziness, and I might just cry.”
Renata Araujo thanked Radest for “staying on top of this as best you could, and for the many helpful video updates. I agree the timeline was shameful, and not an ‘accomplishment’ NJ Transit should celebrate. However, as a Summit resident, I want to celebrate the end of the chaos on the High street intersection just in time for my oldest to start High School in the Fall! Yay!”
The Morris Avenue corridor is a crucial link for vehicle traffic between Route 24 and Route 78.
Before the construction, Former City Administrator Chris Cotter said the bridge was built in 1905 and was put in place when the railroad tracks were lowered a few years later. The bridge “served us well,” he said.. “You don’t see that type of construction anymore.”
New Jersey Transit said that the project included reconstruction of the bridge abutments; replacement of the steel bridge superstructure and concrete bridge deck; widening of the bridge approaches to improve bridge geometry; construction and rehabilitation of the retaining walls, curbs, sidewalks and ADA ramps; installation of the ornamental railings on the bridge and the retaining walls; relocation of the traffic signal pole and the cantilever arm in the Morris Avenue and Kent Place Boulevard intersection; and installation of new traffic signage and striping.
NJ Transit spent approximately $12.9 million to complete the project.