A week after a partial collapse of a wall of a bridge supporting JFK Boulevard where it crosses state highway Rt. 139 in Jersey City, traffic patterns are nearly back to normal.
But a full explanation for the mishap—which, luckily, caused no injuries or deaths—and the prospects for completion of a high-rise residential development at the accident site—3089 JFK Boulevard—await full disclosure.
A Feb. 6 traffic alert issued by Hudson County, which has jurisdiction over JFK Boulevard, cautioned motorists that, “At approximately 12:30 p.m. today, calls went out for assistance following the collapse of the state bridge wall on the west side of JFK Blvd. just south of the Rt. 139 ramp.
“The wall fell down 50 feet below to the bottom of Skillman Avenue adjacent to private (residential) buildings and a (elementary) school (P.S. 31) to the south and Rt. 139 to the north, west and east (also state property).”
As the county advisory noted, JFK was shut down in both directions, north and south), between St. Paul’s Avenue and Rt. 139, as was the Rt. 139 west ramp going towards the Tonnele Circle and the 1-78 Depressed Highway in both directions.
Members of the county sheriff’s office were detailed and barricades set up to guide drivers away from the area and bottlenecks soon developed as drivers scrambled to find alternate routes via nearby side streets off St. Paul’s and Newark aves.
Meanwhile, the advisory said, engineers from the county and state Department of Transportation convened to assess the damage and integrity of the Boulevard and the highways as police from various agencies, along with the city’s Office of Emergency Management, spread out to secure the area.
Asked for further details, DOT spokesman Stephen Schapiro said: “A private contractor was performing demolition and excavation work for the removal of a building (a long-vacant auto showroom and maintenance shop) adjacent to Kennedy Boulevard (the west side) and the bridge over Rt. 139. The removal of the building caused an unanticipated stability issue for the support of JFK Boulevard….”
In a statement attributed to city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione, The Jersey Journal reported that no work crews were on site at the time of the collapse and that the former car dealership buildings on site were razed in December 2022.
The Journal also reported that the JC Fire Department checked on the wall’s stability with specialized equipment and Fire Chief Steven McGill told Jersey City Times that the JCFD has access to a lazer-like tool that can check for vibrations in concrete structures.
That section of the wall was determined to be safe, the chief added.
Schapiro noted that while JFK is a county road, the bridge over Rt. 139 is maintained by the state. “DOT’s engineers are in contact with the county, city and property owner to ensure the continued safe operation of the bridge,” he added.
Jersey City Times emailed Wallace-Scalcione to learn the name of the demolition contractor and whether a city permit had been issued for the job but received no response. Efforts to obtain information on the demo firm from the county and DOT were also unavailing.
What is known is that a contractor hired by the developer worked through the night of Feb. 6 into the early morning to shore up the exposed section of wall with soil and debris.
That morning, JZN Engineering, a consulting engineering firm with offices in Springfield and Jersey City, also retained by the developer, was at the scene to evaluate whether the bridge wing wall was strong enough to support the weight of vehicular traffic along JFK Boulevard.
The firm’s president, Nejm E. Jundi, reported to state and county engineers that the safest course of action was to re-open the two northbound lanes but to direct the developer’s contractor to position additional materials against the bridge wall to further brace it and those recommendations were implemented.
By morning rush hour on Feb. 8, JZN had made a follow-up inspection and concluded that the wall was now secured sufficiently to permit one southbound lane—the one further away from the damaged wall—to open for traffic while keeping the “slow” southbound lane nearer to the wall closed.
It was expected that further testing would be done sometime this weekend to determine whether the second southbound lane could re-open.
Meanwhile, if and when work on the development project—listed in published reports as twin 12-story residential buildings designed to hold nearly 400 apartments—will continue is still up in the air. Also planned as part of the project are retail/office space and a parking garage.
The twin towers would rise just north of The Caprice, a recently built apartment complex.
As of Friday afternoon, the work site remained fenced off and locked with construction equipment parked on an otherwise empty lot.