Hardwick Township convened a public meeting on March 1st at 7 p.m. Tara Mezzannotte, a representative for the I-80 DWG Coalition gave an update on the Route 80 east bound Retaining Wall Replacement Project.
Mezzanotte stated the original and controversial $65 million New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) sponsored I-80 Rockfall Mitigation Project has now ballooned to incorporate a vital project to first replace and repair significant portions of the the retaining wall holding up Route 80 as it snakes along the Delaware River.
This retaining wall hazard was found last year by coalition activists to be severely degraded and unsuitable for the heavy traffic traversing eastbound each day. The second project is underway and is experienced by eastbound travelers as they must all merge to one lane near the base of Mt. Tammany and before the truck weigh station.
The situation is compounded by the recent indefinite closure of PA Route 611 between the Pennsylvania towns of Delaware Water Gap and Portland, due to a recent, massive landslide. Route 611 used to serve travelers to and from New Jersey on the smaller Columbia Bridge, for emergencies and when the traffic on Route 80 seemed excessive.
The I-80 DWG Coalition is a group that seeks better oversight of these projects. They’ve requested full feasibility studies.
“Because they did not do feasibility studies and constructability studies or any studies, they neglected to realize that the retaining wall was never going to support that rock wall project,” Mezzanotte said.
Both she and her husband Chris spearheaded the I-80 DWG Coalition and they would like to see a more thorough evaluation of this project. Basically, they formed a grassroots group, based on creating more transparency of this project and a more thorough study done on its impact.
By “fast-tracking” this second retaining wall project, the coalition maintains NJDOT is “backdooring” the original Rockfall Mitigation Project, said Mezzanotte.
Hardwick committee member John Lovell made it clear that he felt that these were two very separate projects.
“I do see a very real problem with the retaining walls that exist today, the fact that they are a threat to I-80 and they have to be addressed somewhere across the line sooner than later,” he said. “I don’t support the
Rockfall Mitigation Project.”
He added that he is not comfortable with the constant waste of money being spent on the project.
“Warren County took the lead and went on record calling for a section 106 process that includes historical and cultural resources,” Mezzanotte said.
She further mentioned that they commented directly to NJDOT, “What you’re doing is segmenting the project and that we deserve impact assessment on this whole thing, and it should be done through an EIS (environmental impact statement).”
The coalition sent letters to Rep. Thomas Kean, Jr. of the New Jersey 7th Congressional District and Rep. Susan Wild of the Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District. Both responded to the coalition. Rep. Kean will be having an onsite visit in the next two weeks, and it is believed Rep. Wild will be participating in that as well, said Mezzanotte.
To learn more about the coalition and keep current, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/180DWGcoalition.