The Browning Road temporary bridge construction effort in Bellmawr for the Direct Connection project is finally starting, as the bridge pieces are arriving any day. There is a possibility that the first section of the bridge will be “launched” mid-June! This is according to an update document posted at Bellmawr’s town website.
In this post we also take a look at a May 19th letter from the NJDOT Commissioner regarding the Route 295 roadway failure
The temporary bridge is a modular truss-style bridge, developed by ACROW Corporation. As part of the $900 million Direct Connection project, the Browning Road bridge in Bellmawr needs to be replaced in it’s exact location, and to facilitate the ongoing movement of traffic this temporary bridge will be constructed alongside Browning Road, while the main bridge path is reconstructed.
A timeline for the full Browning Road bridge rebuild is not know at this time.
Direct Connect 295/76/42 Recap
A quick background… but I am sure everyone is aware (and we’ve posted a LOT on this project), Direct Connection is a $900 million project to basically straighten out Rt 295, as in it’s original design it includes a very tight and harrowing curved loop in the roadway (Al-Jo’s curve) which is too sharp, slow and dangerous for a high-speed Federal Highway.
The core of this massive project is centered in the town of Bellmawr, where the highly traveled roads of Route 295 (North and South through the state), Route 76 (towards Philadelphia) and Route 42 (towards Atlantic City) all converge.
Another flaw of the original roadways in this interchange area is that all of the traffic is basically routed into one mostly common lower level roadway, and then cars must dangerously maneuver to redirect themselves into the correct lanes towards their destination.
So not only will the new design remove that tight “Al-Jo’s Curve” bend in 295 South by raising the road up over Browning Road, the completed project will have more focused routes for cars to travel in all of the directions. Traffic will not be tossed together in a bowl like you’re tossing a chef’s salad!
Browning Road Bridge Reconstruction and the Temporary Bridge
In the Bellmawr Park area of town, Browning Road crosses over 13 lanes of Route 42 and 295. This is that “tossing everything in a salad” area of the road I was referring to previously. Cars just get funneled into one set of lanes and you fend for yourself to get to the right direction!
Decades ago this was designed so that Browning Road would maintain a level roadway in line with the ground, and the 13 lanes of Route 42 and Route 295 were cut into a lower level roadway so that they passed under the Browning Road bridge.
With the new development of the Direct Connection project, the core Route 295 roadway will pass OVER Browning Road, and Route 42 will still be underneath Browning Road!
And while there will still be some minor curves to the new overhead 295 when this project is completed, it will be significantly straighter than today’s Al-Jo’s Curve… PLUS traffic moving on Route 295 North and South will have their own dedicated roadway through Bellmawr!
And this is where we finally come to the Browning Road Bridge.
The current Browning Road overpass does the job for today’s design, but it is old… and it doesn’t fit the new Direct Connection design.
So the Browning Road bridge is being completely rebuilt. I believe in the new design it will even be raised a bit.
And to keep the flow of traffic moving safely after all is completed, it needs to be rebuilt in the exact same location. Sure there are existing bends in Browning Road, but they are gradual. NJDOT wants Browning Road to remain straight at this point.
And so that they can most effectively rebuild the bridge/overpass… it was decided a temporary bridge would be constructed along side the Browning Road bridge, as it is reconstructed.
Now… I am not saying this is the most important part of the project. It’s not. But I think it’s become one of the most important parts “right now”.
See, remember how when I said Route 295 will cross over TOP of Browning road, instead of below it (as it does now)?
Well before they can start that core elevated 295 portion of the project, then have to get the Browning Road bridge rebuilt first.
Permanent Bridge components are big and heavy, and require cranes.
If they started the higher Route 295 elevated roadway first, it would just become more difficult to replace the Browning Road bridge later.
And for a variety of reasons the Browning Road bridge effort has been delayed. I roughly estimated it at least a 2 year delay based on earlier statuses from NJDOT.
And it’s probably getting to the point that not having the Browning Road bridge rebuilt, it’s causing other impacts in the project timeline.
One core reason for the delay was to negotiate with area landholders for additional room to be able to assemble the temporary bridge.
Instead of cranes lifting this temporary bridge in place, it is assembled in a line and pushed out over the highway below, until it rests on one of those concrete supports in the center of Route 42!
For what seems to be 2 years, the project area has had the bridge mounts developed at either end of the lower level roadway cavern, as well as two concrete support posts in the middle of Route 42!
ACROW Modular Truss-Style Bridge
The information posted at Bellmawr.com does a really good job of explaining the bridge construction process, and also includes a few links to video examples of the bridge’s construction process!
It is not entirely clear who prepared the materials, but we are using them here under “fair use”, not to mention 100% of this project is Government based and paid for.
The intro commentary from the website explains:
the West Browning Rd. Bridge needs to be completely removed before starting the new construction (of the replacement bridge). Therefore, a temporary bridge will be utilized. The temporary bridge will carry traffic, pedestrians and all utilities.Bellmawr.com Publication
The intro also goes on to say that the pieces of the temporary bridge will be assembled on site adjacent to New St Mary’s Cemetery
We are expecting to see the bridge pieces showing up first week in June, with the possibility of the first section of bridge being launched by mid-June, with two weeks of successive assembly launch sequence.Bellmawr.com Publication
So what is really cool about this bridge is, despite the huge cavernous 13 lanes of roadway below… it is not crane-lifted into place! It is pushed!!
Each section of the truss bridge is connected to the next, and as they are assembled and connected… a special “pushing machine” pushes the pieces out over the roadway!
Each section is assembled so there is enough counter-weight to balance the section so that it doesn’t tip into the lower roadway.
So now would be a good time to say that when they actually move the roadway pieces into place (three sections), that will happen on a Friday or Saturday night, and there will be lane closures to protect the safety of everyone!
There will be three sections assembled, and pushed out separately over the course of several weeks.
After the bridge frame is in place and secured, there will still be additional lane closures on Route 42/295 below as contractors still need to install decking, utilities and pedestrian walkways! There will be several more weeks before traffic is moved over to use the new temporary bridge, as grading and all the remaining work is completed.
Document and ACROW Bridge Videos
The document also gives links to a few ACROW style bridge videos. I will share them at the bottom of this post.
The full PDF is available at the Bellmawr.com website, here
Direct Connection Update Letter
On March 25th, 2021 everyone was shocked to see that a large portion of the new elevated Route 295 roadway collapsed… seemingly shearing away from the manmade elevated roadway mountain.
Three days later, 42Freeway posted a theory on the roadway failure, and included very impactful drone images and video of the roadway.
While the news of the roadway collapse was spreading everywhere, the drone images at 42Freeway (proved by Mike Kruce Photography) and a few other images which seemed to be “snuck” out of the construction scene, really caught a LOT of attention… including the attention of Assemblyman Bill Moen.
42Freeway was asking a lot of questions.. everyone was asking questions about how this could happen..
and so was Assemblyman Bill Moen.
So he and his political team in the Legislative District 5 (Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Assemblyman William Spearman) reached out to NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti… not only looking for answers, but for a PUBLIC meeting on the roadway collapse.
We wrote a detailed overview of the April 7th Zoom town hall meeting.
Miss Gutierrez-Scaccetti was very open and honest, but due to the still very recent timing of the incident, she didn’t have a lot of answers.
Roadway Failure Cause and Next Steps
On May 19th, the Commissioner sent the 5th Legislative District an letter, which stated:
Regarding the investigation and corrective action plan associated with the recent retaining wall failure, a forensic investigation is currently underway to determine the source fo the failure and next steps.NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, Letter Dated May 19th
So as of May 19th, the are still investigating the failure and what steps should be taken to correct the issue.
A repeated theme in the Public Meeting was that even beyond this failure, the public really has no idea what is happening with the project, the timelines (or delays), and how everything connects.
I put a lot of coverage on “lack of communications” into my articles and videos also!
So from NJDOT we did get occasional notices, but they were very specific to immediate work being done (and really just closure notices) .. and really didn’t explain the status or effort in a broader sense.
It’s like having a house being built and simply getting updates on random little aspects of the project!
So even during the April meeting, the Commissioner was already saying they would improve their communications.
Honestly, the descriptive document on the temporary bridge installation that we are reviewing here (posted at Bellmawr.com)… I have to believe it’s creation was a direct result of the feedback given to the commissioner! Give us more details, and written in a way that we can understand the full picture!
So in the May 19th letter, the Commissioner says:
The Department remains committed to full transparency and a robust public outreach programNJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, Letter Dated May 19th
The letter goes on to outline a variety of additional communication components which will be added over time.
- A new, more accessible website
- State of the art “text for info” service
- Multiple Billboards in the project area
- Partnering with NJ Broadcasters Association to launch Public Education Programs and Ads
- Launching a GeoFence push notification service within 15 miles of the project
- Deploying multiple Variable Message Signs
- Utilizing the NJDOT social media accounts, and Commitment to Communities Newsletter as additional information outlets
Regarding the website, I do see some updates were made.
The project overview is in the lower half, and Wall repair and news are in the top.
It’s a nicer presentation… but still the status reads as a series of road closures, and really gives us no sense of where we are, timelines, what is next.
If I am having a house built, I want to hear: The framing is finishing up this week. Next week plumbers come in, then electricians after that. In 3 weeks we’ll have the walls closed in and then in about a month all the windows and exterior doors are installed.
Similarly if I am having a massive road rebuilt, I want to read; when the temporary bridge pieces are arriving, timeline for them being installed and traffic using. What the roadway failure results are, and what is are the action steps. Give me a high-level estimate of when the next phase of overhead roadway starts. Not “Right side lane of Route 42 is closed”
Hey NJDOT… my day job has me directing a team of Software Engineers in developing high-speed applications for a respected financial firm. My core job is telling a story with statuses, ha! Different groups want to hear different things; traders, executives, developers. So I am offering that I would take a day or two off from my day job and come hang at the NJDOT offices and project site, pull out all of the core information the public wants.. and put it out in a clear and concise way. Once I do it.. you can just follow that pattern! 🙂
And my offer to drive the Commissioner through the project area on a personal tour still stands!
Other Communications Aspects:
Texting: I do see the implemented the Texting for project alerts system: 1-844-844-3681
Other Aspects (Signage): So honestly, I go back to the office next week. I havent driven up Route 42 in a few weeks and need to get back through to see if any of these other elements such as signage are in place.
So in summary… I am ecstatic to see the Browning Road bridge work is finally starting, and the document that someone prepared is very good at explaining the bridge and process. Very interesting.
But we still need more on the roadway failure and how it will be corrected, and we also need more on the larger project status and communications.
Links and Videos!
- April 8: NJDOT Direct Connect Project Update Meeting: Full RECAP!
- April 4: New Direct Connect Video Update. NJDOT Project Update This Wednesday! Register Online! More Drone!
- March 28: Direct Connect 295/42 Bellmawr Wall/Roadway Sinking Analysis Video, Theory and… Hey NJDOT, Whats up?
- Nov 23: Direct Connect 295 November 2020 Update. Support Columns Going Up (Video) and Browning Road Commentary
NJDOT Update Letter: PDF
Browning Road Temp Bridge Document: PDF