LIVINGSTON, NJ — Nearly a decade after Livingston resident Carla Lenzi Cheesman and her son brought the idea to the township, the Wardell Road Pedestrian Bridge is officially fully functional and will allow the children who live in the 40 houses on Plymouth Drive and Wardell Road to walk quickly and safely to Collins Elementary School.
Masked for a photo opp on Thursday afternoon, Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez, Township Manager Barry Lewis and members of the Livingston Township Council gathered at the bridge to cut the celebratory ribbon and declare it open for public use.
The township officially went out to bid on the project just prior to the New Year and awarded the work to CMS Construction earlier this year. Despite a short delay due to the pandemic, the construction began in May with minimal impact to traffic in the area.
The new pedestrian bridge is a pre-engineered steel truss pedestrian bridge situated across Canoe Brook on Wardell Road between Plymouth Drive and Swan Road. Manufactured by a company called Bridge Brothers, it features reinforced concrete bridge abutments and a pre-engineered 80-foot span steel truss pedestrian bridge.
“It’s always fun to champion a great idea to the council,” said Councilman Al Anthony, who advocated for the project as mayor in 2019 and credited Cheesman and her son, Ryan, for pursuing the project. “This bridge will provide a convenient option for anyone who wishes to walk or bicycle the entire Wardell Road without driving a car all the way around on Northfield or Falcon…This project is another great example of a green initiative brought to fruition in 2019, making our town even better.”
Cheesman was working for the Livingston Planning and Zoning Department in 2010 when first she approached Anthony, her former neighbor, about the bridge.
The Livingston resident—who grew up on one end of Wardell Road, where her mom still resides, and currently lives on the other end—explained prior to the construction that the two sides of Wardell Road are divided by Canoe Brook, making it difficult for pedestrians and bikers to get from one to the other.
As a Collins Elementary School alumna, Cheesman recalled that children walking to school “took the path by the police station and crossed the bridge behind the police station building.”
When her older children started at Collins several years ago, Cheesman approached township officials to propose a pedestrian bridge that would reduce the length of the students’ walk to school.
Additionally, she said, a bridge connecting the two parts of Wardell Road would create significantly easier access to South Livingston Avenue for pedestrians and would also give Plymouth Drive residents direct access to anything on the opposite side of Wardell Road if walking or biking.
Cheesman’s son, Ryan, was in middle school when he became interested in pursuing the bridge campaign and decided to initiate his own conversation with the governing body.
He began his research, and discovered the many health benefits of walking, such as the cognitive processes that are stimulated through the blood circulation experienced during low-impact aerobic activity. He also found that children with ADHD especially benefit from this type of stimulation and noted that parents of children who walk to school can avoid the pickup and drop-off lines.
Ryan continued to work on the bridge project throughout high school, but his mother found herself spearheading the cause once again after he left for college.
During a five-on-five meeting between the Livingston Township Council and Livingston Board of Education in April 2019, Cheesman asked both governing bodies to consider the necessity of the bridge as a safety issue that also promotes healthy physical activity.
She reiterated that the lack of access from one side of Wardell Road to the other is a deterrent to living in the Collins community, and her persistence finally resulted in the approval of the bridge.
When the project was officially approved, Cheesman expressed gratitude toward Anthony, who she said was “very instrumental in the approval of building the bridge” and Christina Steffner, former Livingston Superintendent of Schools, who also heavily supported the bridge movement at the time.
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