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- Continuing his effort to preserve critical historic elements in Mercer County, Executive Brian M. Hughes today presented the Freeholder Board a proposal for Jacobs Creek Bridge in Hopewell Township that preserves the historically significant truss bridge and constructs a new, safe bridge on nearly the same footprint as the existing span and roadway.

“We have heard the concerns of the board, DEP, and the residents and we believe we’ve reached a great compromise that takes a minimizing approach to this project without changing the original scope and goal of this project, which was to create a safe bridge and roadway that could handle today’s traffic,” Hughes told the board.

Hughes last came before the board on this matter six months ago when the board voted in favor of hiring engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to come up with a concrete design for a new bridge and roadway that accommodates the thousands of cars that travel Bear Tavern Road every day. Parson Brinckerhoff was charged with coming up with a design for a bridge that considered a variety of concerns, including environmental impact, stream buffer, wetlands, historic preservation and cost.

Hughes also said the desires of various groups and stakeholders weighed heavily in the design of this bridge, and that balancing the interests was important.

“We heard from small business owners who wanted a new bridge; bridge experts and preservationists who asked us to save this significant Pratt Truss Bridge; residents who want to get from Point A to Point B in a timely manner; neighbors who believed their property values might be diminished and others who simply wanted to leave the roadway closed. We believe we’ve come up with a proposal that will please all but those who wished the road permanently closed,” Hughes said, “in that it achieves our primary goal of a safe roadway built to current standards but with minimal impact in almost every way.”

Among the key points and compromises under the design proposal include:
  • New bridge hugs nearly the same alignment as the old yet moves traffic in a safer manner by removing the T intersection at Bear Tavern and Jacobs Creek roads.
  • New bridge meets federal standards and is thereby eligible for State Aid and Bridge Bond funding.
  • Greatly reduced impact on the surrounding environment and preserves cultural resource (the bridge).
  • Moves the new alignment even further from the location where historians believe Washington and his troops may have crossed the creek bed, and from the area that could soon be designated an historic district.
  • On the roadway alignment that has already been disturbed by sewer lines.
  • Bicycle friendly and aesthetically pleasing to the character of the setting.
  • Minimized impact likely to cost less to build.

Hughes, who was recognized in 2008 for his preservation efforts by the New Jersey Historical Commission, said: “I know I share this value with the board when I say that this administration never stopped listening to the desires of the people on this matter. After more than 35 public meetings over 7 and a half years, we are still open to the wants of the public, especially when it comes to our historic treasures here in Mercer County: The Louis Kahn Bathhouses, The Hunt House, The Roebling Steel Building, hundreds and hundreds of preserved acres, and our most recent preservation of the Petty’s Run Archaeological Dig Site in the City of Trenton.”

Hughes acknowledged that the area near Jacobs Creek Bridge is currently under review by the New Jersey Historic Sites Council to be designated an historic district. If that designation is granted, the County would be required to get approval by DEP to move forward with the new bridge construction. The county plans to submit its Freshwater Wetlands Permits application to the state by the end of September and will continue to consult with the state Historic Preservation Office as it has since this proposal began in 2004. The bridge, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irene, is being removed and preserved. Hughes announced plans to relocate it permanently to Howell Living History Farm, where it would be seen by the more than 65,000 people who visit there each year. “The iron truss bridge would replace the one that existed in the District for 100 years,” said Pete Watson, director of Howell Living History Farm. The iron truss bridge was replaced by a concrete bridge in 1973, and Watson told the freeholder board that the Jacobs Creek Bridge would marry perfectly with the Pleasant Valley Historic District and that its addition would create one more “wonderful place to interpret the history of Mercer County.”

The County is currently seeking to reduce the weight allowance and speed limit on Bear Tavern Road.