The prospect of a brand new, stable and aesthetically pleasing Hubbards Bridge is no consolation for residents who think they’re getting the raw end of the traffic and safety deal with the $15.5 million federally funded project.
As Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore explained the particulars of the near decade-in-the-making project at the last night, residents who live in the area grumbled, groaned and called it a gyp for Middletown and boon for Red Bank.
Their fear: that what is an already clogged Hubbard Avenue traffic artery will become gridlocked when people traveling from the Garden State Parkway onto Half Mile Road and then West Front Street need an alternate route to Route 35 and Navesink River Road.
And when the project is complete, they think the improvements will encourage excessive traffic coming to and from Red Bank to cut through Hubbard to access Route 35.
“Was there a consensus between the two governing bodies involved (Middletown and Red Bank) on the plan that was chosen?” asked Pat Walsh, former Middletown Board of Education president and longtime resident of the property that abuts the bridge at West Front Street and Hubbard Avenue.
“Yes, there was a consensus to develop this (particular) span between Middletown and Red Bank,” Ettore responded. “There were four primary alternatives and both governing bodies passed resolutions on this option."
What Ettore was referring to is the chosen plan to replace what he said was called “the noisy bridge leading to Red Bank” with an open grid deck to a 48-foot-long steel girder bridge with 12-foot travel lanes, six-foot wide sidewalks on both sides and a decorative parapet. There will be historic lighting on the bridge and improvements, including crosswalks, to the existing signalized intersections at Hubbard and Shrewsbury avenues.
The original bridge was built in 1921 and became severely corroded. It was temporarily replaced in 2004.
Now, construction on the bridge that Ettore said carries an average of 17,000 vehicles a day is slated to start in the summer of 2013.
Since the replacement bridge is being built beside the old one, there will be no need to cut off traffic on the span to and from the Hubbard Avenue area of West Front Street in Middletown and Shrewsbury Avenue in Red Bank for most of the two-year construction phase, Ettore said.
The estimated four months that the span will be shut down entirely and traffic diverted is when crews are connecting the bridge to the banks of each town.
The permanent bridge is expected to last 75 years, Ettore said, so he called it a worthwhile sacrifice for a few months.
But, the Hubbard Avenue contingent of residents disagreed, saying the positives of a bigger, prettier bridge are just an invitation for more traffic and trouble for them.
“If we did this another way (not building the new bridge beside the old), there would be two years of traffic tie-ups and detours, not four months,” Ettore said.
“I’m talking about the traffic of today,” Walsh retorted. “Does this new bridge address any of that?”
The issue, Ettore answered, is not about existing traffic congestion in the area, “it’s about fixing a bridge that was crumbling.” He said that there was an option to build a bridge that extended directly to Hubbard Avenue, but it was “extremely expensive.”
An optimum plan, Ettore added, would have also been to widen and improve the intersection and train overpass at Shrewsbury Avenue, but the idea was shot down by the NJ Department of Transportation.
Walsh pointed to the traffic tie-up when the intersection at Shrewsbury Avenue and West Front Street was closed for road construction. “Look how bad it was then,” she said. “Traffic was tied up all the way to Half Mile Road,” a few miles away.
She and parents in attendance added that they worry about kids walking to school as it is. They are not provided with bus service from the corner of Hubbard to River Plaza Elementary. With the construction under way and detours taking truck traffic and more down Hubbard to cut over to Navesink River Road and Route 35, they anticipate safety issues.
Chief Robert Oches said he would look into stationing an officer in dangerous spots when traffic is peaked and come up with a signage plan.
Ettore said that county and school officials discuss the possibility of temporary busing can be arranged.
All concerns aired at the forums on the bridge replacement will be funneled to authorities.