LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The Scudder Falls (I-95) Bridge Replacement Project took a major step forward on Jan. 30 with the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission’s approval of a $396 million construction contract award and a corresponding $475 million bond authorization to finance the project.
“With today’s approval of a construction contract and bond financing, we are on the threshold of breaking ground to replace the existing ‘functionally obsolete’ bridge and its congestion-prone approach roadways and interchanges,” said Joseph Resta, executive director of the Commission. “When completed, this comprehensive project should greatly improve the quality of life for commuters and other drivers by reducing travel times and improving safety.”
While the current 57-year-old bridge is safe for current use, it is nearing the end of its useful life and is classified on the National Bridge Inventory list as “functionally obsolete” due to concerns with capacity, safety deficiencies, shoulders, and poor approach roadway geometry. The existing bridge’s lack of shoulders causes lane closures when vehicles are stranded or when routine maintenance operations are conducted, which can cause significant travel delays. In addition, the geometry of the bridge’s interchanges creates difficult and unsafe traffic movements and mergers for commuter traffic.
Under the project, the current four-lane Scudder Falls Bridge will be replaced with a dual-span structure carrying six lanes of through traffic (three in each direction), and three auxiliary lanes (two northbound, one southbound) for traffic merging on and off the bridge. The new bridge will have increased capacity, which should reduce congestion and improve travel time for drivers, and the new auxiliary lanes will allow for safer merging. The project will also provide for construction of full inside and outside shoulders on both replacement bridge spans, a current highway standard requirement.
Other elements of the project include:
- Improvements of approach roadways in the 4.4-mile project corridor along I-95 between the highway’s PA Route 332/Yardley/Newtown Interchange in Pennsylvania (Exit 49) and the highway’s County Route 579/Bear Tavern Road Interchange in New Jersey (Exit 2). This work will include the widening of the Pennsylvania I-95 approach between Exit 49 and the bridge by adding an additional travel lane in the existing median (widening to the inside) in each direction.
- Reconfiguration of the I-95/Taylorsville Road Interchange (Exit 51) in PA, and reconstruction of the entire I-95/Route 29 Interchange (Exit 1) in NJ and associated ramps and structures;
- Construction of a pedestrian/bicycle walkway alongside the main river bridge that will connect to the recreational canal paths in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey;
- Construction of noise abatement walls where warranted in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey;
- Installation of an all-electronic toll (AET) gantry and related infrastructure in the southbound direction consisting of highway-speed E-ZPass tag readers and high-speed video cameras for license-plate billing.
At the meeting, the commissioners approved the award of a construction contract to the Trumbull Corporation of Pittsburgh for an amount not-to-exceed $396 million.
A precise start date for construction is not yet available, but the contractor probably will be in a position to start survey work sometime in March with construction activities possibly beginning in April. It should take about 4-1/2 years to complete the project, which is expected to be built in three major stages.
The Commission plans to keep traffic moving along the affected I-95 segment and across the river at all times. The current Scudder Falls Bridge will remain in service until the first of the new dual replacement spans is completed and opened to traffic sometime in 2019. The Commission will begin collecting tolls in the southbound direction only at that time.
The Commission advertised the construction project on September 13, 2016 and a Pre-Bid Meeting was held on September 27, 2016 with upwards of 70 contractors and subcontractors in attendance. This meeting was followed by a voluntary site tour. A total of 58 prospective contractors and sub-contractors purchased sets of the bid documents, which are used in formulating proposed bids. In the end, one company, Trumbull, submitted a bid to construct the project.
The Commission also authorized the issuance of up to $475 million in bonds to finance the project, which received no federal or state funding. The bond finance obligations will be met through the collection of tolls on the replacement bridge and the use of the Commission’s capital fund. The precise cost of the bond sale won’t be determined until the offering goes to market and is priced; the maximum cost is $475 million.
Tolls at the new bridge, which will be assessed only in the southbound direction, will be collected via an all-electronic tolling (AET) system of E-ZPass tag readers and high-resolution cameras. Cash will not be collected at the new facility through a conventional toll booth plaza.
The base toll for an E-ZPass-equipped passenger vehicle crossing the Scudder Falls Replacement Bridge will be $1.25. Frequent commuters who make 16 tolled crossings in a respective month across Commission toll bridges will qualify for an automatic 40-percent discount -- 75 cents per tolled trip -- provided the transactions are recorded on the same DRJTBC-affiliated E-ZPass transponder (a transponder issued by the NJ E-ZPass Group, the Commission’s back-office toll processing service provider).
Passenger vehicles without E-ZPass will have images of their license plates captured by one of the high-speed cameras mounted to the AET tolling gantry that is planned to be constructed in the southbound direction on the Pennsylvania side of the replacement bridge. The registered owner of the vehicle will receive an invoice for all trips made through the Scudder Falls tolling point in a given billing period. The passenger vehicle Toll-by-Plate toll will be $2.60 per trip. The higher toll is applied to cover the additional costs of processing non-E-ZPass transactions.
The full toll schedule for the Scudder Falls Replacement Bridge, including rates for trucks and other non-passenger vehicles, may be accessed in the tolling section of the bridge project’s website www.scudderfallsbridge.com.