New Jersey Drivers Fume as Road and Bridge Work Stops

Several miles from Princeton, drivers are playing chicken as they detour across a single-lane bridge. In Summit, the prolonged shutdown of a century-old crossing has forced nearby businesses to lay off workers. And in Hoboken, the delay of the long-awaited rehabilitation of a critical connection to the Lincoln Tunnel threatens to disrupt back-to-school traffic.

Across New Jersey, residents accustomed to complaining about all of the road work undertaken during the summer months now have something different to moan about: Hundreds of those improvement projects have ground to a halt, victims of a political stalemate among state lawmakers. In many places, the orange cones and mesh netting are still in place, but the backhoes and road graders sit idle, as do more than 1,000 construction workers across the state.

The long days and abundant sunshine of the season make it prime time for fixing the roads and bridges that keep things moving in New Jersey, which, like many states, is saddled with aging infrastructure. But for more than a week, those ideal conditions have been squandered as the state’s political leaders argue about whether and how to raise the state’s gasoline tax.

With no agreement and the state’s Transportation Trust Fund — which is financed by the tax — nearly drained, Gov. Chris Christie ordered that all work stop on a long list of projects throughout the state. That left the completion of construction scheduled for this year in jeopardy, said Anthony Attanasio, executive director of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey.

“One thing everyone agrees on is that government is responsible for providing safe and reliable infrastructure for taxpayers,” Mr. Attanasio said. But, he added, since Mr. Christie’s executive order took effect on July 8, “we’re in this weird limbo where no work’s getting done.”

With Mr. Christie and other Republican leaders at their party’s national convention in Cleveland this week, a deal to end the stalemate is unlikely in the coming days. The chances of reaching one before the Democrats wrap up their convention in Philadelphia late next week seem nearly as slim.

The 50-page list of stalled transportation work represents more than $3 billion in projects to upgrade roads, bridges and mass transit. New Jersey Transit, the agency that runs the state’s commuter rail and bus network, has had to suspend its order for dozens of new buses until the financing issue is sorted out.

James Kennelly, a spokesman for Hudson County, said officials there had been advised to expect the suspension of work on the Park Avenue Bridge, which connects Hoboken and Weehawken, to extend to the end of July.

What is clear is that shutting down and restarting projects will add to their cost, driving up the total price significantly in some cases. Hudson County, Mr. Kennelly said, estimates the stoppage will add as much as $120,000 to the cost of rehabilitating the bridge.

In several towns on the northern border of Princeton, the closing of the Route 518 bridge this month — and the subsequent shutdown of work two days later — has sent cars onto other traffic-clogged routes over the Millstone River, leading to angry exchanges among drivers. The work was scheduled to be finished this fall. Now the bridge could be closed much longer.

Donato Nieman, the administrator in Montgomery Township, said he had seen drivers getting into arguments when they were rerouted to a one-lane bridge to the north. Some drivers have even played chicken on the bridge, facing each other until someone backs down, he said.

“You get the rolling down of windows and the hurling of less-than-charming language,” Mr. Nieman said, noting that officers were sent to park in driveways nearby in an effort to encourage drivers to behave.

The police in nearby Franklin Township, in Somerset County, have received complaints about road rage shouting matches at another crossing to the south. Sgt. Philip Rizzo, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the community had seen major traffic backups, especially during the evening commute.

Local leaders have asked the state to deem the Route 518 bridge an essential project and to restart the work since it is a critical route for emergency responders trying to reach a hospital. Theodore Chase, the deputy mayor in Franklin Township, questioned why work began on the bridge on July 6, even as uncertainty lingered over state funding.

His wife, Victory Chase, was stuck in traffic at an alternate crossing as she returned home on a recent evening after volunteering at a library.

“It took me an hour to do something that takes less than 10 minutes normally,” Ms. Chase said.

Down the block from the Route 518 crossing, Barry M. Gerlack, the owner of a travel business, said he was furious with Mr. Christie over the impasse. Not only is his commuting longer, but a pizza deliveryman recently called him frantically asking for detour directions in the hopes of keeping a pie hot.

“We have our own Bridgegate here — it’s unbelievable,” he said.

A deal over transportation financing appeared near last month, but Mr. Christie and Democratic leaders in the State Senate could not agree over which tax cuts to pair with a 23-cent increase in the gas tax. On Monday, Mr. Christie told reporters in Cleveland that he had rejected a new financing proposal from Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat and president of the State Senate, and would meet with Mr. Sweeney after the convention. Mr. Sweeney’s office said that Mr. Christie had not offered his own counterproposal.

Since Mr. Christie ordered the shutdown, he has been preoccupied with a series of political setbacks. Last week, David Samson, his longtime friend, pleaded guilty to using his position as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for his personal benefit. A day later, Mr. Christie was passed over to serve as Donald J. Trump’s running mate.

At the Morris Avenue bridge in Summit, residents complained of rerouted traffic filling quiet neighborhoods with the sounds of revving engines and honking horns. On Monday afternoon, a group of teenagers walked down the sidewalk as they sought a way around the closed bridge.

Jim Jorgensen, 50, a financial analyst who lives in Summit, walked past the idle construction site.

“How long does it take to build a bridge?” he asked.

The project in Hoboken had been underway for just two days when Mr. Christie ordered the shutdown, Mr. Kennelly, the Hoboken spokesman, said. Workers had begun chipping away at the old concrete on the bridge, one of two that connect Hoboken and Weehawken just south of the Lincoln Tunnel.

“Our main concern was that we found ourselves in a tricky position because it is very difficult to get in and out of Hoboken,” Mr. Kennelly said. “We wanted to try to manage things so that we didn’t increase any period of time of aggravation.”

County officials asked the contractors to cover up the work its crew had done and reopen the lane of traffic that had been closed off, Mr. Kennelly said. Before the suspension of the work, the plan had been to have crews work for 12 hours a day six days a week through mid-September.

Under that schedule, the project could have been completed without much nighttime labor and before school buses start rolling again in the fall, Mr. Kennelly said. But now that plan will have to be reworked with the understanding that it will extend well past the end of summer.

Construction industry officials, Mr. Attanasio said, still hope that elected officials can work out a solution before the end of the month. If not, he said, the stalemate could grow into a more dire condition.

“If you get into August, you’d be going from hundreds of projects to thousands of projects” shut down, he said. “That’s going to affect every single person in New Jersey and anyone who travels through our state and anyone who ships goods and services to and from our state.”

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