If any of you readers have ever driven through Bridgewater, NJ, you’ve almost definitely encountered the ongoing construction on Route 22 – namely, the impossible mess sitting at the foot of Chimney Rock Road. For those of you who haven’t, you’re lucky. The entire situation has felt like a mess since it started so many years ago. As a resident of the town (and one of the people who has to use that highway to get home), I feel I’m experientially qualified to make some remarks on its past, current, and future state. Plenty of less qualified people than me force their opinions on the masses, so it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy some good old-fashioned dissatisfaction.
Bridgewater, for those of you who don’t know, is a large town in North or Central Jersey, depending on who you ask. According to Wikipedia, it’s a town of 44,000 people, mostly Caucasian or Asian (and mostly Caucasian of those two). What’s important is that, geographically, it’s split almost down the middle by US Route 22, meaning that if anyone wants to get anywhere in town, they’ll take 22 at some point. And if you’re going from the town’s “east” side (it’s really more north than east, but I don’t make the rules), you’ll most likely take the stretch of road between the Hess Gas station (less than a mile up from Vosseller Avenue) and the 287 North exit. It’s this area that has been so viciously mauled by our town’s planning board.
Up until I went off to college in 2011, that bit of highway was some of the least congested road I’d ever encountered. Then began the construction, which tore apart the land – both natural and manmade – and replaced it with an as-of-yet unfinished bridge spanning a small canyon in which the highway was nestled. The road which had once been incredibly easy to navigate had become riddled with poorly drawn lines, side barriers, elbows, and reduced size (3 lanes down to 2). On one hand, it looks very poorly planned; there’s no drainage anywhere throughout this construction, meaning that a heavy rain will effectively shut down the highway as the canyon floods. This is probably the most incompetence I’ve ever seen in roadwork, all down to poor planning. But from another entirely different perspective, this whole project seems wrong.
What do I mean by “wrong”? Well, most of this project seems to be an attempt to build the bridge connecting the two halves of Chimney Rock Road that were cut apart by Route 22. Previously, the only thing connecting these two halves was railroad, which ran directly from the nearby quarry (which now may or not be becoming a convention center) to the shale and construction companies across the highway. The mess I’m really referring to stems from this bridge, because it forces people trying to merge onto 22 onto a rather impressive elbow that goes under the bridge and then back into traffic, seemingly to avoid crossing the railroad tracks. This is surprisingly poor design; even common sense traffic flow theory could tell you that the fewer the enormous turns the better.
Additionally, the train tracks this elbow is trying to cross have historically only been used maybe once or twice a week and at midnight or later, meaning the previous construction pattern was adequate enough to deal with both the trains and cars at once. But now that the quarry is shutting down (which seems to be the general consensus from most of the town paying attention), there should be even less use of the tracks from now on. It’s suspicious, then, that the town would go through all the trouble of making traffic avoid the railroad at all, rather than just constructing the bridge to be done with it. In fact, it seems so downright incompetent that I can’t believe there wasn’t another plan at work.
Perhaps, in fact, there was. Somewhat recently, plans for a nearby train station (joining some kind of larger train network) were axed. Said train network, if I understand it correctly, would have been in a prime position to connect with the current railroad leading into the quarry/possible-future-convention-center. Could the plan be, then to “build it and wait?” Construct the infrastructure because the future of the whole train network may still be uncertain, and plans may come to fruition after all?
I have no idea. I’m not the slightest bit qualified to theorize, essentially making this nothing more than a conspiracy theory. However, it’s worth noting that the alternative to a conspiracy is a town that has some of the worst planners who have ever graced the planet, and who hire contractors almost as slow as an uphill glacier. For the sake of my town’s future, I’m going to hope it’s the conspiracy.