Brown says cost of rockfall project is too high for commuters and taxpayers

Delaware Water Gap. The New Jersey Department of Transportation says the rock cuts along I-80 westbound are unstable and dangerous. But Pennsylvania officials say the $200 million in federal funding allocated for the project would be better spent on a commuter train from Andover, N.J., to Pennsylvania.

05 Feb 2020 | 09:35

Pennsylvania Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe/Pike) is questioning a transportation project to prevent rockfall hazards on I-80 through the Delaware Water Gap.

Calling it a "debacle," Brown says the rockfall project "poses an economic and environmental threat to our area, not to mention the everyday impact it will have on commuters who have to travel through the Water Gap for work."

Brown is demanding answers from federal officials and stronger communication between the New Jersey Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Brown is also asking officials for justification for the up to $200 million in federal funding that has been allocated for this project.

“Tourism and visitation will also be affected for four years as expected construction will cause major delays," she said. "Safety is always my first priority, but it is hard to support a project that will have extremely strong impacts to Pennsylvania when there appears to be no valid safety data available supporting the project need. I am requesting this safety data be presented to justify the usage of taxpayer dollars in this manner."

The New Jersey Department of Transportation says the rock cuts along I-80 westbound in the project area are unstable and dangerous. While collecting samples in the area, the NJDOT identified hazards such as slides (planar sliding and wedge sliding), toppling, rock mass failure, and discrete rockfall from large overhangs, steep vertical faces, loose boulders, and rock blocks. These conditions have "resulted in rock toppling down and landing on the shoulder and roadway lanes and washouts along the I-80 roadway. Rockfall debris has accumulated up to the top of the westbound barrier curb in locations throughout the project limits," according to the NJDOT.

Would money be better spent on rail lines?

Brown wants to know if the problem can be addressed through maintenance or "less-massive efforts."

"The answers should be available to taxpayers and officials," she said. "If this project is not validated, I am urging the dollars allocated to the Rockfall Mitigation Fund be transferred to our rail efforts from Andover, New Jersey, to Pennsylvania. This rail line is well overdue and would offer significant benefits to several states and their residents, especially in our region.”

Bob Hay of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority shares what $200 million in federal funding could mean for the high-speed train completion from Andover to Delaware Water Gap/Mount Pocono.

“The rail line through Northern New Jersey, known as the 'Lackawanna Cutoff,' runs parallel with I-80 and is a critical infrastructure project that would bring much-needed relief to the interstate for traffic and increased safety," said Hay.

The first phase of the project is under construction from Port Morris to Andover. Hay said redirecting the $200 million dollars from the I-80 rockfall mitigation project to the second phase of the rail project, from Andover to the Delaware Water Gap, would be the best return on investment of the federal funds to increase safety on I-80.

“I have spoken with staff from U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey and U.S. Reps. Susan Wild and Matt Cartwright’s, and have also sent each a letter encouraging them to be a voice in this important discussion and help obtain these answers,” said Brown.

“The rail line through Northern New Jersey, known as the 'Lackawanna Cutoff,' runs parallel with I-80 and is a critical infrastructure project that would bring much-needed relief to the interstate for traffic and increased safety." --Bob Hay, Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority