The next steps in the planning of the much-delayed and much-debated rock mitigation project on the S-curves on Interstate 80 will be released by the end of 2022.
Knowlton Mayor Adele Starrs said at the July 11 Township Committee meeting that she had reached out to the New Jersey Department of Transportation for an update on the project and received a response last week.
Starrs said the results of an archeological study of the area and a visual assessment of the work will be available by the end of the year. Residents and other stakeholders will then have a short period to comment of the findings. The dates of the public portion are expected to be announced when the report is released.
The project, intended to reduce or prevent—depending on the final plans—rocks and boulders from Mount Tammany, which towers over Route 80 in the heart of the Delaware Water Gap, from ending up on I-80 has been pushed back numerous times, most recently last summer after federally recognized tribal nations that have ancestral land in the area asked for a review.
The tribal groups requesting the review join a growing list of groups, individuals, elected officials and other interested parties that have been calling on the state DOT to go back to the drawing board on the project. Discussions and planning for the project go back at least a decade. In 2012 the engineering firm of Dewberry Cos billed almost $11 million in consultant fees for an original contract of $915,614.48. These costs along with other factors have helped solidify the opposition to the original plans.
Tara Mezzanotte, a founder of the I-80 Fence and Safety Concerns at the Delaware Water Gap Coalition, said at the July 11 committee meeting that prior to Starrs’ correspondence she does not believe the township is getting timely reports from the state DOT, and pointed out that the first visual assessment looked nothing like what was first proposed, which came as a last-minute surprise.
“It was complete overkill,” Mezzanotte said.
“As you can see, through Tara’s good work and the other agencies that have jumped on board with this, this entire project, which should have been under construction by now, has been pushed back,” Starrs said. The delays will allow the township and other stakeholders time to push for reasonable solutions to the problem.
Mezzanotte also pointed out that a more pressing issue is the need for repairs to the drainage culverts under I-80 through the S-curve, which have been neglected. Poor drainage contributes to erosion at the base of the rock outcroppings adjacent to the highway, she said, adding instability to the rocks.
Mezzanotte and the coalition have urged that the culvert issues need to be folded into the rockfall mitigation plans instead of the Band-Aid approach the state has been taking, she said.
This past week the eastbound lanes I-80 were reduced to one lane during the day as repairs to retaining walls along where the highway meets the Delaware River begin.