Walkway for new I-95 bridge up in the air Scudder Falls span plan for the Delaware might freeze out bicycles and pedestrians.

Posted: February 03, 2010

A new, $300 million toll bridge on I-95 over the Delaware River might not have room for bikes or pedestrians.

The 180-foot-wide replacement Scudder Falls Bridge, between Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County, and Ewing Township, Mercer County, is to have nine lanes for auto and truck traffic (up from the current four), two 14-foot-wide dedicated lanes for buses, and two 12-foot-wide shoulders.

But a walkway on the bridge, which crosses over canal paths on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the river and would offer the only pedestrian river crossing for 12 miles, might be prohibitively expensive, says the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which will build and operate the bridge.

FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 4, 2010, FOLLOWS: A story yesterday about a proposed toll bridge across the Delaware River misstated the distance between existing pedestrian crossings. A bridge at Washington Crossing State Park with pedestrian access is about seven miles north of the Calhoun Street Bridge from Trenton to Morrisville.

"The commission understands the benefit of the bike path, but it's a cost issue," said Pete Peterson, a spokesman for the commission. A walkway would cost about $17 million to $19 million, and boost the cost by about 6 percent, from $290 million to $309 million, Peterson said.

The public has until tomorrow to comment on the bridge plan. The plan says a pathway is "being considered - a decision will be made during final design when costs are refined and cost reasonableness can be determined."

The current bridge does not have a walkway for bicycles and pedestrians.

Bicycle advocates and planners are clamoring for a pathway on the new bridge. And local township governments on both sides of the river have passed resolutions calling for inclusion of the walkway.

"When you're building these projects that will last for 50 to 75 years, you need to build them to be inclusive for all users," said John Boyle, advocacy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

"When you've got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect two high-traffic trails on both sides of the river, it's probably the right thing to do," said Greg Krykewycz, senior planner at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Construction on the bridge is supposed to start next year and be completed by 2013, Peterson said. The current bridge, the commission says, does not meet modern design standards and is too narrow to accommodate future traffic.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club of New Jersey is opposing the entire bridge project as too big, too costly, and likely to increase pollution and sprawl.

"It will be twice as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge," said Jeff Tittel, director of the state Sierra Club. "It's the Gold Plate Bridge - it will look like an aircraft carrier."

Tittel said the Sierra Club would challenge the current plan, seeking a more modest rebuilding plan that could include a walkway attached beneath the existing 50-year-old bridge.

"That would be safer and closer to the canal path on the Jersey side, so you could actually connect to it," Tittel said.

The bicycle coalition also called the need for such a wide bridge "highly questionable." In a letter sent Monday to the Bridge Commission, the bicycle coalition said that the commission's traffic projections were probably too high and that it would be wiser to devote money to a pedestrian-bike lane than to "excessive" auto lanes.

The battle over the bridge, and adjacent highway redesign, comes as states and cities increasingly are requiring road-builders to consider pedestrians and bicyclists in their plans.

New Jersey last year joined 17 other states with a "complete streets" policy that mandates bike and pedestrian facilities on most future road projects.

Those policies typically define a "reasonable" expense for adding pedestrian and bicycle facilities as 20 percent of a project's cost.

Because the new bridge won't use federal or state funds, the final decision on the pathway will be up to the Bridge Commission.

The new Scudder Falls Bridge actually would be two separate structures: a five-lane northbound bridge to replace the current bridge, with a four-lane southbound bridge next to it.

And associated roadwork would extend for 4.4 miles along I-95, from Route 332 in Bucks County to Bear Tavern Road in Mercer County.

It would include widening I-95 by adding a lane in each direction in the existing median. Existing ramps would be reconfigured on both sides of the river, with roundabouts built where New Jersey Route 29 intersects I-95.

There is no toll on the current Scudder Falls Bridge, but the new bridge will be a toll bridge, according to a plan approved last month by the New Hope-based Bridge Commission. No toll rate was set, but it's likely the toll would be similar to the charges on the commission's seven other toll bridges over the Delaware (including bridges on U.S. 1, I-78, and I-80).

There, the base toll for cars is 75 cents.

The plan for the new bridge calls for a "cashless" toll system, with motorists using E-ZPass transponders to pay their tolls. Motorists without E-ZPass would be billed by mail, based on a photograph of their license plates snapped by cameras mounted on the bridge.

Frank G. McCartney, executive director of the Bridge Commission, said the decision to place tolls on the new bridge "was not made lightly."

"In the absence of available federal and state funding for the project, the commission believes a toll paid by users of the bridge is the most equitable solution. Commissioners did not feel it was reasonable or fair to expect users of our other river crossings to shoulder the financial burden of the capital improvements to the Scudder Falls Bridge," McCartney said in a statement issued in late December, when the commission approved the bridge plan.

The current Scudder Falls Bridge was built in 1959. It carries about 58,400 vehicles each weekday, and the Bridge Commission estimates traffic will increase by 35 percent to 77,500 by 2030.

For pedestrians and cyclists, there is no river crossing between the Calhoun Street Bridge in Trenton and the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge 12 miles to the north. Pedestrians used to be able to cross between Yardley and Ewing Township, but that flood-damaged bridge was demolished when the Scudder Falls Bridge was opened in 1961.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

How to Voice Your Opinion

Interested people may comment on the Scudder Falls Bridge plan by writing to Kevin Skeels, Senior Program Area Manager, DRJTBC, 110 Wood and Grove Sts., Morrisville, Pa. 19067, or by sending an e-mail to ScudderfallsbridgeEAcomments@hntb.com. The 561-page draft environmental assessment for the project may be viewed at www.scudderfallsbridge.com. The project hotline number is 1-800-879-0849.

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