To the Editor:
The following was presented during the public comment session at Hopewell Township’s public meeting on Wednesday, January 27 seeking community input about the future of the historic Mine Road Bridge. For MercerMe’s coverage, visit this link.
To the Hopewell Township Committee Members, Mayor Julie Blake, Ms. Courtney Peters-Manning, Ms. Kristen McLaughlin, Mr. Michael Ruger, and Mr. Kevin Kuchinski:
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Hopewell Township Committee members on Wednesday, January 27, 2021 concerning the Mine Road Bridge. I appreciate that you invited community response to the Mercer County plan to demolish the bridge and replace it with a 40-ton weight structure. Thank you, Mayor Blake, for ensuring that members of the public actually got to participate in the discussion.
As a resident of Hopewell Borough, I have been a frequent runner on Stony Brook Road over several decades. As a result I know the picturesque Mine Road Bridge well.
I strongly agree with the September 30, 2020 “Hopewell Township Historic Preservation Commission Resolution No. 20-1” request that Mercer County reconsider its plans to replace the historic Mine Road iron truss bridge. I urge agreement with the Commission’s recommendation that the historic Mine Road Bridge be rehabilitated and returned to use as a 4-ton bridge (or higher, depending on its current actual weight capacity).
As you know, the 1885 Mine Road iron truss bridge is the only one remaining in situ in Hopewell Township. Because of its local historical significance, it should be protected. In addition, according to the August 2018 “Intensive-Level Historic Architectural Report,” prepared by RGS, Inc. for IH Engineers, P.C., the Mine Road Bridge is not only significant locally but is also “eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Place” as “a well-preserved example of early metal truss bridge construction” and “an increasingly rare example of a once common bridge type in New Jersey” (p. I, “Executive Summary;” p.3-11; p.4-8).
According to the website HistoricBridges.org, the Mine Road Bridge ranks 7 out of 10, both nationally and locally, in historic significance. Bridges given this rating are “very important bridges and may predate standardization, or exhibit remarkable design. Generally, bridges at this level will be recognized as historic by the government, but may not be preserved.” The website states that the 1885 bridge is “an excellent example of a Pratt truss by the notable King Bridge Company” of Cleveland, Ohio.
The August 2018 “Historic Bridge Alternative Analysis Report,” also prepared by RGS, Inc. for IH Engineers, P.C., describes how the bridge could be rehabilitated according to the Secretary of the Interior’s (SOI) Standards for Rehabilitation for historical structures (pp. 17-18). The report alludes to a 2015 Inspection Report when it concludes that, “The level of strengthening required would make complying with the SOI nearly infeasible.” However, in the January 27th public meeting Mercer County engineer Basit Muzaffar indicated that no structural study of the damaged bridge has been conducted. At that meeting Mr. Muzaffar also frequently alluded to NJ Department of Environmental Protection dictates about the bridge, but, as was decided by the Committee, the DEP opinion about rehabilitating the bridge needs to be clarified.
The Historic Preservation Office of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection seems to care both about preserving the state’s history and about residents’ concern for that history. According to its website, the Office is committed to enhancing the quality of life for the residents of New Jersey through the preservation and appreciation of our collective past.
Our mission is to assist the residents of New Jersey in identifying, preserving, protecting and sustaining our historic and archaeological resources through the implementation of the state’s historic preservation program.
As such, the view of the NJDEP about the Mine Road Bridge must be clarified, since the Historic Preservation Office may well support Hopewell Township in its effort to preserve it.
Once the Mine Road Bridge is rehabilitated, its height and weight limitations can and should be clearly indicated on both Route 31 and Stony Brook Road. The bridge could even be indicated as single lane. Having to yield to on-coming cars would slow down traffic over the bridge.
A 40-ton bridge as proposed by Mercer County should be rejected out of hand. Such a structure, capable of accommodating a loaded trailer truck, is grossly inappropriate for this bucolic, lightly used crossing leading to a narrow, winding, rural road.
I hope the Hopewell Township Committee members will exert their will, courage, and creativity to preserve the Mine Road Bridge.