Doherty decries accident figures being used to support bridge project

TRENTON – A state lawmaker and outspoken critic of a proposal to spend about a third of a billion dollars for the construction of a new Interstate 95 bridge just north of Trenton is accusing proponents of the project of “monkeying around” with accident figures.

Sen. Michael Doherty, (R-23), says crash statistics used in part to argue for the need of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission’s $328 million bridge replacement are being exaggerated. He argues the annual crash figures cited by the commission fall significantly short of data kept by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

“Obviously his numbers are incorrect and I’m a little alarmed because one of the reasons they are selling this bridge project is to improve safety,” said Doherty, referring to statements made by the commission’s executive director, Joseph Resta, regarding vehicle accidents on the current bridge.

“It appears his numbers are inflated seven-fold,” he said.

Doherty referred to comments Resta made in a statement to PolitickerNJ last month in a report about Republican opposition to the proposal that has the support of the state’s Republican governor.

At the time, Resta said the project to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge will “provide safer, more efficient travel and time-saving commutes for generations of residents” in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He cited “approximately 105 accidents each year at the bridge, its interchanges and approach roadways.”

However, NJDOT crash reports indicate “99 crashes, or roughly 14 per year in each of the last seven years, have occurred on the bridge in either direction or directly at the on-ramp junction” on the Garden State side, according to a NJDOT correspondence to the lawmaker.

Despite New Jersey splitting jurisdiction over the roadway with Pennsylvania and the total number likely being higher, the discrepancy, Doherty argues, is significant.

“The bottom line is Resta’s numbers are extremely inflated,” he said. “Maybe he needs to revise his comments … [because] it looks like he’s monkeying around with the numbers to benefit what he wants to do.”

A bridge commission spokesman cited a 2009 environmental study that concluded there were 314 crashes between 1999 and 2001 – an average of about 105 per year.

However, Doherty and others are quick to point out the commission’s 2009 study included accidents along I-95 that stretch beyond the Scudder Falls Bridge and its on-ramps – outside of the bridge commission’s jurisdiction, said Commissioner Ed Smith.

“Our jurisdiction actually ends at the bridge,” said Smith, who also opposes the replacement project.

“It’s obviously stretched way beyond the district of the bridge commission,” he said. “At what point do we stop collecting this data?”

Smith – who also serves as a Warren County freeholder, which recently passed a resolution that put on record their opposition to the project – said he spoke with Resta last week regarding the discrepancy.

“He told me that they are looking to bring those numbers to be more current,” Smith said. “I am going to be looking for some type of discussion on this as well at the upcoming [commission] meeting.” Doherty decries accident figures being used to support bridge project