It took a decade and more than $600 million to finish building by the end of 2021 but the new Wittpenn Bridge and approaches linking Jersey City and Kearny along Rt. 7 but its overseers are still tinkering with it.
Adam Ginsburg, a Kearny resident, expressed his frustrations in a recent email to the Jersey City Times when he wrote:
“The Wittpen Bridge spanning the Hackensack River was a renovation project costing taxpayers a kajillion dollars (but) it’s closed every weekend for ‘testing’.
“It’s a major inconvenience and doubles or triples travel times with the detours. … Is the bridge unsafe?”
N.J. Department of Transportation spokesman Stephen Schapiro provided this response:
“The new Wittpenn Bridge is one of the largest lift spans in the country (known as an orthotropic bridge deck) and has a very complex operating system.
“There are many required safety checks that need to be fully tested prior to completing the project. Among the systems undergoing testing are an intensive interconnected system to ensure the bridge opens safely (all gates are down and engaged), the bridge raised in a level manner, and that the bridge does not get stuck in an open or partially open status.”
One of the issues that hindered drivers on the old bridge occurred when the bridge deck jammed during an opening or closing triggered by the passing of marine traffic under the span, causing motorists delays of 15 to 20 minutes while crews worked to remedy the mishap.
Schapiro went on to say that, “The (U.S.) Coast Guard also has extensive requirements that must be satisfied and all of the many electrical and mechanical components of the bridge have to be tested. These checks are being done to ensure the bridge will open as soon as possible during marine calls and closes quickly during peak travel times, and that it is done safely.
“All of these procedures, equipment checklists and scenarios take time to test.
“Testing is expected to be completed within the next month or two.The cost of the testing is included in the contractor’s bid for the project. The contractor does not receive final payment until all testing is completed and accepted.”
The new bridge’s deck, consisting of thin steel plates similar to those used in U.S. battleships, with longitudinal “ribs” and floor beams, is the first of its kind in New Jersey and one of about 100 around the U.S. Examples include the Golden Gate in California, the Bronx-Whitestone in New York and Tacoma Narrows in Washington.
But it has been used in thousands of bridges in other parts of the world, mainly in Europe, Asia and South America.
Built by Oregon Iron Works-Vigor, the deck was transported in five sections by barge through the Panama Canal to the Hackensack River site.
And, with a deck providing vertical clearance over the river doubled from the original Wittpenn doubled to 70 feet – ensuring 135 feet clearance when raised – the DOT says, ultimately, openings and closing should be reduced by 75% resulting in fewer traffic disruptions.
Removal of the old Wittpenn bridge’s ironwork was completed in November 2022 and a group known as Friends of the New Jersey Transportation Heritage Center in Phillipsburg, N.J., selected as exhibition pieces the movable bridge operations control panel desk and some of the brake levers salvaged from the 90-year-old span.