Friday, April 12, 2024

State and Federal Officials Get First-Hand Look at Route 80 Problems

An onsite legislative meeting took place to view traffic problems firsthand and why the DWG Coalition is seeking formal conflict resolution and a third party review of the NJDOT project. Seen here L-R: Selina Winchester from U.S. Rep. Susan Wild’s office (PA-7); U.S. Congressman Thomas Kean, Jr. (NJ-7); State Rep. Ann Flood (PA – 138); Tara Mezzanotte of the DWG Coalition; Deborah Pasquarelli of NJ Assemblyman John Demaio’s office (NJ-23); Hardwick Deputy Mayor Nicole Meuse; Hardwick Mayor Chris Jacksic; Portland Mayor Heather Fischer and Portland Council President Stephanie Steele. Photo courtesy of the DWG Coalition.

Knowlton and Hardwick, along with Warren County, have done all in their power to get issues of Interstate 80 addressed, said Tara Mezzanotte, a founding member of the I-80 Rockfall Fence and Safety Concerns of the Delaware Water Gap Coalition.

So now it’s time to widen their reach, Mezzanotte said, starting with a delegation of state and federal legislators she guided through the Gap last week.

Mezzanotte led a large group that included U.S. Rep. Thomas Kean, Jr. of the New Jersey 7th Congressional District and other legislative officials from both sides of the Delaware River to see the portions of I-80 that are and would be affected by the rockfall mitigation plans.

Dubbing the plan the “Jurassic Park fence,” Mezzanotte and her group have campaigned to keep the state from erecting barriers similar to those installed along Route 46 several miles south in Knowlton.

“One of Warren County’s biggest issues is the safety impact of this project to the traveling public and to the communities,” Mezzanotte said, referring to the $65 million rockfall project.

Instead, she said, both states need to concentrate on emergency repairs to I-80 on the Jersey side, and Route 611, which parallels I-80 on the Pennsylvania side. Currently, emergency repairs are being made to a retaining wall on the Jersey side, which has necessitated lane shifts and the narrowing of lanes.

Adding to the issues with I-80 is the closure of Route 611 on the Pennsylvania side as a result of a rockslide earlier this year. The roadway is not expected to reopen until at least the summer. Traffic that would normally use Route 611 now crosses into New Jersey to use I-80, returning to Pennsylvania via the Columbia-Portland bridge.

Mezzanotte said that as these emergency repairs are made, the New Jersey Department of Transportation must consider alternatives for several parts of the $200 million plan to bring I-80 up to federal standards for interstate highways.

While I-80 was completed across Warren County to Columbia in Knowlton in 1973, the route followed the existing Route 46 through the gap, which was re-designated I-80. That portion of I-80 dates back to the 1930s, and despite now being an interstate highway, has seen few major modifications since that time.

Among the concerns of the Delaware Water Gap Coalition and what they consider to be imprecise plans is that they do not fully indicate how the project will be done, including any rockfall mitigation.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.