ROXBURY, NJ – The structure being proposed to replace the historic Landing Masonry Bridge would be unsafe for pedestrians and should be redesigned to better suit people on foot, say some local historians.

The comments were made in a letter to the Morris County Engineering Department sent earlier this month by the Roxbury Historical Advisory Committee. The 108-year-old bridge over the railroad tracks and former Morris Canal is slated for replacement in 2019 at a cost of $6.1 million.

The advisory committee said it is “extremely concerned about the current configuration … with regard to pedestrian access safety and use.” Although the committee said it accepts the general scope of the bridge replacement – conceding that traffic volume and the bridge’s condition warrant the state-funded project – the engineers should re-think the new design’s sidewalk plan.

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Specifically, they believe the new bridge needs walkways on both its northern side and its southern side.

“There are currently township plans to provide a walkway from the recently constructed park and athletic fields on Landing Road to the bridge,” wrote the committee. “The existing bridge, although beautiful in its original design, functioned well because of a walkway and step structure associated with the Landing Train station that provided safe pedestrian access to the lake, Morris Canal and Landing area.”

However, that walkway, on the southern side of the bridge, was later removed. The advisory committee said the current configuration, with a walkway on only the northern side of the bridge “does not provide safe access to the other side” for pedestrians. It is urging the engineers to include, in the new bridge, walkways on both sides.

The historians are also asking that the bridge replacement include additional construction in the adjacent area to improve safety and aesthetics for people walking on the lake side of the intersection.

“We also feel that the pedestrian sidewalk along the Lake Hopatcong side retaining wall is too narrow and unsafe and does not provide any interaction with Lake Hopatcong,” they wrote. “The historical pedestrian access from the train station and canal to Lake Hopatcong should be emphasized in any new design.”

The committee is calling for a new 10-foot-wide sidewalk along the lake that should “at a minimum” include “safety bollards or features to separate the vehicular traffic and pedestrians, and some features to view the lake,” perhaps “openings in the wall as wide as 20 feet with an observation area for pedestrians to view the lake, possibly with stair access to the lakeside below.”

In its letter, the committee stressed the historical significance of the area. Built in 1907 by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, the double-arch stone bridge was the last bridge built to span the Morris Canal before the canal was taken out of service, according to former Canal Society of New Jersey President Robert Barth.

“The area of landing was once a beautiful gateway to Lake Hopatcong with trains and canal boats bringing tourists to various destination points on the lake via boat, carriage and trolley,” wrote the advisory committee in its letter. “Now, the once thriving area of Landing had deteriorated with many vacant business properties.”

The committee said it would like to see the new bridge “designed with a streetscape that includes attractive historic elements of the area during its heyday.” This work should coincide and complement the ongoing restoration of the 104-year-old train station nearby, it added.