War vets, governor, elephants open bridge

Span is longest bridge of precast

War vets, governor,
elephants open bridge

concrete in U.S.

BY JOLENE HART

Staff Writer

Beneath a backdrop of sunny skies Monday morning, drivers crossed over the new Victory Bridge for the very first time.

But it was quite a different scene two days earlier, when a few hundred faithful residents huddled under a tent at the peak of the bridge, waiting in a driving rain to witness the historic opening of the first span of the $109 million Route 35 bridge over the Raritan River between Sayreville and Perth Amboy.

"On the Perth Amboy side, it’s sunny," joked Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas as he addressed the patient crowd Saturday.

The most notable presence at the ceremony was that of a group of area war veterans, as the new bridge was rededicated in honor of our country’s veterans.

Representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion from Sayreville, Woodbridge and Hopelawn, accompanied by ladies auxiliary members, were the true dignitaries of the occasion.

"For all those who ever wore a uniform for the United States of America, let us rededicate this extraordinary bridge," Gov. James E. McGreevey said at the ceremony.

The governor unveiled a plaque that will be affixed to the new bridge, alongside the original Victory Bridge dedication plaque and five smaller memorials that honor the Red Cross, Air Corps, Army, Marines and Navy.

The original Victory Bridge, the longest swing bridge in the state, opened in 1926 to a crowd of 200,000 people. At the time it was called "the greatest structure ever built," said Jack Lettiere, the current state Department of Transportation commissioner.

Large volumes of traffic, combined with the frequent opening of the bridge to accommodate river traffic, made the bridge obsolete only 10 years after its construction. In later years, the Route 9 Edison Bridge and the Garden State Parkway’s Alfred E. Driscoll Bridge alleviated some of the area’s traffic problems.

"We wanted to replace this structure with something even more magnificent," said Lettiere, who predicted that the finished structure will be the "prettiest bridge ever built in New Jersey."

According to Lettiere, the new Victory Bridge is the first of its kind. It is the nation’s longest bridge to be built of precast segments of concrete, shipped from Virginia.

Since construction began on May 1, 2003, workers have been on site every weekend, from 10 p.m. on Sundays to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The demolition of the original Victory Bridge will make room for the second span of the new structure.

When the entire project is complete in December 2005, the first span will carry southbound traffic while the second will support vehicles traveling north. Each will be a 3,970-foot-long span with a 120-foot vertical clearance above the tide.

Those who are familiar with the bridge’s design noted that aesthetics were a key aspect of the plan. The final renderings of the bridge show an impressive structure that features dramatic lighting — tall, arching lamps will line the sides of the bridge and spotlights will illuminate the supporting columns.

The new Victory Bridge is also more pedestrian-friendly, with a sidewalk and railings.

"This is truly a bridge to the future. It will open up economic commerce and stand as a legacy of sacrifice and a reminder of service," said state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), who is Chairman of the Assembly’s Transportation Committee and a resident of Sayreville.

Sayreville Mayor Kennedy O’Brien noted that the bridge will "ease the plight of the people of Sayreville who need to commute north."

"It will now accommodate a high volume of Shore and recreational travel. The new high-level bridge will permit river traffic to flow at any time, making it a safer crossing," said Middlesex County Freeholders Director David B. Crabiel.

Father Thomas Ryan of Holy Trinity Parish, Perth Amboy, joked with the crowd that the only people who might be unhappy about the convenience of the new bridge are students from local high schools, as the traffic jams caused by the old swing bridge were often used as an excuse for late arrival to school.

Rain subsided long enough for a motorcade to cross the bridge, led by McGreevey and other county officials in historic roadsters. Two elephants and a rooster — representing strength and victory — were also part of the symbolic crossing.

The entire Victory Bridge replacement project was federally funded. Figg Bridge Engineers Inc. and Vollmer Associates prepared the project design, and George Harms Construction Co. completed the construction work.

The bridge, which extends from Fayette Street in Perth Amboy to the north exit driveway of Amboy Cinemas in Sayreville, will be used by approximately 20,500 vehicles each day.

McGreevey also noted that the state is investing over a half-billion dollars in major projects to improve traffic congestion and upgrade Middlesex County’s transportation infrastructure. The improvements include the expansion of the Driscoll Bridge, the construction of a new Route 9 Edison Bridge, the redesigning of New Jersey Turnpike Interchange 12 in Carteret, and the elimination of the Route 35/Route 9 Victory Circle in Sayreville.