LOWER MAKEFIELD » The new Scudder Falls Bridge upstream span opens this week, meaning drivers on Interstate 295 entering Pennsylvania from New Jersey will soon begin paying tolls.
The ongoing bridge replacement project is scheduled to reach its watershed moment July 14, when historic toll collections go into effect following the July 10 span opening.
Cars with E-ZPass will be charged $1.25, but cars without an E-Z pass will have their license plates recorded and the registered car owners will receive an invoice in the mail charging $2.60. Indeed, the new span carrying traffic from Ewing Township, N.J., into Bucks County, will operate under a cashless tolling system featuring no toll booths.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, on Friday blasted the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission for turning the longtime toll-free route into a tollcharging highway.
“Bridge tolls begin July 14,” Tittel said Friday in a press statement, “and that not only means adding costs to use the bridge, but increased traffic and pollution. Many drivers will head to other free bridges to avoid the toll, adding congestion in those areas. The expansion project for the Scudder Falls Bridge was excessive and overly expensive.”
The old Scudder Falls Bridge opened in June 1961, operating as a toll-free bridge for decades while carrying traffic over the Delaware River.
“Increasing traffic congestion and deficiencies associated with the physical configuration of the bridge and its two adjacent interchanges led to the decision to replace the existing Scudder Falls Bridge with a modern structure featuring the latest design standards,” according to information posted on scudderfallsbridge.com. “Overall, the project will build 4.4 miles of highway and bridge improvements between the Newtown-Yardley Road/Route 332 Interchange in Pennsylvania and the Bear Tavern Road/County Route 579 Interchange in New Jersey.”
The $534 million Scudder Falls Bridge Replacement Project’s main construction phase began in July 2017 and is expected to be completed in late 2021.
“For all that money, we will see hardly any improvement and there will still be congestion problems because of the design,” Tittel said Friday. “The only thing this bridge widening will accomplish is adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This project won’t change the service level on the bridge, but it will take a toll on our wallets.”
The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, also known as the DRJTBC, hammered Tittel over his hard-charging commentary.
“Jeff Tittel has been attempting to peddle his uncorroborated and irresponsible line of nonsense about the Scudder Falls project since 2010,” said Joe Donnelly, spokesman for the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. “His unsubstantiated statements were rejected by regulators in the project’s nearly-10-year environmental review process, which ended in 2012.”
Donnelly in an email said the old Scudder Falls Bridge “is classified as functionally obsolete,” adding it is “the same design as the Mianus River Bridge that collapsed in Connecticut, killing three people in 1983.”
“The Scudder Falls Bridge and its adjoining highway and interchange segments are choked with traffic every workday,” Donnelly said. “No rational person would invest further public money in a bridge that is substandard and lacks the capacity to meet current or future traffic demands.”
The bridge commission back in December 2009 made the decision for the new Scudder Falls Bridge to be a fee-based toll- bridge.
“The Sierra Club,” Donnelly said, “has no viable alternative for financing this sorely needed regional transportation project without tolling.”
Scudder Falls Bridge toll fees will only be levied upon drivers entering Pennsylvania from New Jersey. The downstream span of the new bridge remains under construction and is expected to open near the end of 2020, carrying free-flowing traffic from Lower Makefield Township,Pennsylvania, into the Garden State.
Tolling begins one second after midnight on July 14. Basic passenger vehicle drivers with EZPass will receive a 40 percent discount automatically if they make 16 or more toll-direction trips across DRJTBC toll bridges in a month, which would lower Scudder Falls Bridge toll costs to 75 cents.