Construction of the current Scudder Falls Bridge was completed in late 1959, but the bridge did not open for use until June 1961. The bridge and its adjoining interchanges and highway segments have not been substantially improved since they were constructed. The National Bridge Inventory lists the bridge as “functionally obsolete” due to concerns with capacity, roadway geometry, and safety deficiencies. The bridge is nearing the end of its useful lifespan and is need of replacement.
The bridge is a heavily used commuter crossing that bottlenecks traffic during weekday peak travel periods – northbound in the mornings (PA to NJ) and southbound in the evenings (NJ toPA). More than 58,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily, although its original design was meant to accommodate less traffic. The bridge cannot handle current traffic demands and certainly is incapable of handling projected future traffic volumes. In 2010, former Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell said the recurring peak-period traffic congestion causes 27 minutes of increased travel time for job commuters on a daily basis.
Safety also is major concern. More than 100 accidents a year occur in the project area, with the preponderance occurring on the New Jersey side – notably in the area of the I-95/Route 29 interchange. Even minor accidents and emergencies at the bridge and its interchanges have been known to cause extended periods of regional gridlock due to inadequate lanes on the bridge, the absence of shoulders on the structure, and poor sightlines and roadway geometry at the bridge’s abutting interchanges.
Finally, the bridge’s structural design is of the same non-redundant, pin-and-hanger-connected two-girder type as the I-95/Mianus River Bridge that collapsed in Connecticut in 1983. A non-redundant bridge generally has only two primary load-carrying members (beams); failure of one of these members results in a catastrophic collapse of the bridge. The design of non-redundant structures is no longer permitted nationwide by the FHWA and state DOTs. The Scudder Falls Bridge’s two main beams and pinned hangers (four large steel pins supporting each suspended portion of the bridge are fracture-critical members, whose failure would result in a bridge collapse. For these reasons and others, the current structure cannot be widened. (Note: The Commission took steps in the early 1990s to prevent a Mianus-type collapse, but the redundancy measures did not – and could not – add life to the bridge’s road deck, which now has multiple pothole patches and other surface deterioration. )
The Commission – in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the New Jersey Department of Transportation – is proposing to replace the aging bridge, reconfigure and/or reconstruct its adjoining interchanges, and make corresponding improvements along the I-95 approaches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The total project area is 4.4 miles, consisting of the I-95 segment extending from the Route 332 interchange (Yardley-Newtown Road/Newtown Bypass) in Pennsylvania to the Route 579 interchange (Bear Tavern Road) in New Jersey.