Aging infrastructure offers opportunities for reinvention

Martin Daks//March 13, 2023

Aging infrastructure offers opportunities for reinvention

Martin Daks//March 13, 2023

Long-suffering New Jersey drivers, who have coped with roadwork delays for decades, faced yet another challenge last month, when the New Jersey Department of Transportation announced a full weekend closure of the Route 7/Wittpenn Bridge between Jersey City and Kearny. The reason: continued testing of the bridge’s lift span machinery.

But here’s another way to view the situation: thanks to the infusion of federal infrastructure funds – as well as private and other investment – the reinvention of the Garden State is continuing at a healthy pace, improving New Jersey’s desirability and spurring job creation.

The Wittpenn Bridge project, a major connector between Routes 139 and 1&9 to the east, and the New Jersey Turnpike Interchange 15W and Newark/Jersey City Turnpike to the west, illustrates the positive changes. The project involved replacing the 85-year-old vertical-lift bridge “with a new one south of the existing bridge,” according to Jersey City-based China Construction America, which served as general contractor.

The job included “construction of a new vertical lift span, the associated steel lift towers, control system and approaches,” CCA noted in an announcement. The new bridge boasts “two 12-foot through lanes, a 12-foot auxiliary lane and an 8- to 10-foot-wide right shoulder in each direction, as well as a 6-foot-wide sidewalk along the eastbound roadway,” in addition to elevating the minimum vertical clearance above mean high water to 70 feet in the closed position, compared to 35 feet for the old Wittpenn Bridge, potentially reducing the need to close the road whenever the bridge is raised to let shipping traffic pass underneath.

The project “will reduce vehicular and marine traffic conflicts and provide the public with safer travel conditions,” according to CCA.

Problems and potential

Engineering professionals agree that despite the headaches that engineering projects in New Jersey can encounter, there are plenty of opportunities.

Princeton Witherspoon construction
The Witherspoon Street project encompasses the construction of pedestrian and roadway improvements along the busy commercial corridor, with the first phase focusing on the stretch near Princeton University. – T&M ASSOCIATES

As a densely populated and highly industrialized state, New Jersey can present some “interesting challenges” when it comes to providing living space, according to T&M Associates Senior Vice President And Northeast Regional Operations Manager Michael Regan. “There are a lot of people here, and space is limited,” he observed. “As part of the New Urbanism approach – which seeks to combine sustainable development with walkable communities that do not rely as much on individual cars to get around – we’ve been engaged in an increasing number of redevelopment projects. Some of them, like Canal Crossing in Jersey City, involve brownfields that have been remediated, while others, like the Witherspoon Street roadway improvement project in Princeton, involve maintaining historic characteristics while meeting modern-day environmental and other requirements.”

The multiphase Canal Crossing redevelopment, originally a component of Jersey City’s broader Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan, calls for a 111-acre “live, work and play” community “composed of townhouse, multistory, mixed-use market-rate and affordable housing,” he detailed. “The concept is built around walkable spaces with easy access to mass transit and commercial facilities. As a national consulting, engineering, environmental and technical services company, one of the design issues we were asked to consider was stormwater management, or the collection, accumulation, treatment and storage of stormwater for eventual reuse.”

The Witherspoon Street project encompasses the construction of pedestrian and roadway improvements along the busy commercial corridor, with the first phase focusing on the stretch near Princeton University. Already in progress, the improvements include underground utility upgrades, sidewalk removal and replacement, tree removal and replacement, roadway surface removal and replacement, and signal timing updates at the Paul Robeson-Wiggins- Witherspoon intersection.

T&M Associates is providing engineering services for the venture, “and it calls for maintaining the character of the historic district and supporting its commercial use,” Regan explained. “At the same time, we have to meet [federal Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements and support stormwater management through green infrastructure. For example, a pervious paver system was selected for the sidewalks to maintain consistency with the historic surroundings and create an aesthetically pleasing streetscape for the commercial corridor while delivering environmentally friendly performance.”

More to do, but with fewer people available

Michael Regan, senior vice president and Northeast regional operations manager at T&M Associates

Funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, along with New Jersey’s projected population growth (from 9.26 million in 2022 to 9.6 million in 2030), mean that “Development and redevelopment are top topics in this state,” according to Michael Regan, senior vice president and Northeast regional operations manager at T&M Associates.

Brownfield and greenfield redevelopment, infrastructure improvements, congestion relief, bridge deck upgrades, they’re all part of it, along with water and stormwater management in new developments and upgrades. There are many opportunities for civil engineering companies in every corner of the state.”

But with a shortage of engineers, how will companies like T&M Associates meet the rising demand?

“Staffing challenges are universal across the labor market,” Regan said. “And it’s particularly important for companies like ours that are in a growth phase. We’re focusing on retaining the people we’ve got, and recruiting new ones to meet the growing market, as well as to address spots opened by retirement.”

He said T&M retains good people by “offering multiple paths for career growth, including business management, project management, technical leadership, marketing, sales and other opportunities. We also offer competitive compensation, flexibility in hours and work locations, and a dynamic team culture that people say they appreciate.”

To find new people, the company encourages employee referrals, which can earn existing employees a bonus, “and we have a robust college internship and recruitment program, where roughly half of interns end up joining us after graduation,” added Regan. “Also the T&M Foundation offers STEM scholarships through partner organizations and colleges. It’s a way to give back and gives us more exposure to rising stars. As a father of two young daughters, I know that bringing folks into STEM at the earliest stages is critical to our industry’s long-term growth.”

Dewberry Senior Vice President Ileana Ivanciu

Other businesses also feel the pinch. “The shortage of engineers is real,” said Ileana Ivanciu, a Parsippany-based senior vice president at Dewberry, which has provided engineering and other services to organizations ranging from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to Hackensack Meridian Health. “We have taken bold and deliberate steps to attract, retain, and celebrate a diverse workforce at Dewberry. Our actions include investing in companywide leadership development courses, incentivizing internal transfers, and continuing our focus on diversity and inclusion, such as pay equity analysis, unconscious bias training, and equitable job posting language to entice more applicants. Our employee resource groups are thriving; they are internal employee groups that come together based on common interests and life experiences, with objectives for strengthening employee careers, company culture, and communities served, while achieving business results.”