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Route 18, East Brunswick Drainage and Pavement Rehab Project Upgrades 60-Year-Old Utilities and Roadway

by: Julie Devine
The tight work zone in East Brunswick, New Jersey, requires complex staging within the 4-plus-mile area.
The tight work zone in East Brunswick, New Jersey, requires complex staging within the 4-plus-mile area.
On Route 18 in East Brunswick, New Jersey, the highway that saw its last major improvement in 1960 now suffers from flooding issues and deterioration, but heavy commuter and commercial traffic complicates work.

To solve those problems, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) included strict provisions for small, spread-out work zones that minimize traffic impacts in the federally funded, $86.1 million Route 18, East Brunswick Drainage and Pavement Rehabilitation project. Collaborative efforts between NJDOT, the contractor, and local municipalities keep the project moving forward when crews inevitably uncover unknown structures added over 60 years ago. A stakeholder task force helps coordinate with the many businesses, schools, and hospitals within and near the project footprint.

In June 2022, NJDOT awarded the project’s low-bid construction contract to Earle Asphalt Company of Wall, New Jersey. They started construction in January 2023, with substantial completion anticipated in summer 2026.

Many Steps
The project covers Route 18 between the New Jersey Turnpike and Rues Lane/County Road 617. That 4-plus-mile corridor includes three lanes in each direction without shoulders, a multitude of right-in/right-out connections to driveways and intersecting streets, nine signalized intersections with jughandle ramps, and two closely spaced interchanges.

The roadway was originally built in 1932, with improvements made in 1953. In 1960, the last major improvements converted the shoulders into a third travel lane in each direction.

Now, the existing drainage infrastructure is unable to handle major storm events, so rain ponds and spreads across all lanes. Substandard cross slopes also contribute to flooding, so this project will fully reconstruct the right lanes in each direction. Crews will mill and resurface deteriorating pavement in the other lanes.

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In addition, the project will upgrade existing sidewalks, curbing, curb ramps, signalized intersections, and guiderail to current federal and state standards.

Because of the age of the existing facilities, “We’re replacing the entire length of 4-plus miles of water and gas utilities,” said Jignesh Patel, NJDOT’s Resident Engineer. “The contractor has a sub doing the work for the gas main and they’re doing the water main, with the utility companies overseeing the work.”

To help with stormwater management, the project includes construction of two new bioretention basins and renovation of two existing basins.

Before entering those basins, “Runoff water from the pavement will go into custom-made drainage structures,” Patel said. “They capture all the debris from the roadway, then the clean water goes into the basins and from there to a local creek.”

The new infrastructure is designed to withstand at least a 10-year storm event. In addition to solving flooding issues, the project’s operational improvements will enhance vehicular and pedestrian safety and reduce congestion through the corridor.

Small Work Zones
Before achieving those results, the many aspects of construction in the busy corridor require complex staging.

“Being such a high-density state, we don’t have the luxury of closing lanes during the day like other areas of the country,” said Steve Schapiro, NJDOT Press Manager. “Therefore, stage changes and other work that may impact traffic are done at night.”

During the daytime, crews work in small stretches of one lane (leaving two lanes in service for that area) while preserving three lanes in each direction through most of the project footprint. NJDOT only allows the contractor to close two adjacent lanes overnight while they set up a new work zone.

“The project is primarily three stages – the northbound side, southbound side, and the median work – and each stage can be worked independently,” Patel said.

However, NJDOT divided each of those stages into five work zones of about three-quarters of a mile long, and contract provisions prohibit work in consecutive zones. In addition, work cannot take place simultaneously in adjacent areas of the median and the roadway.

“For example, if the contractor is working in the median, within three-quarter miles they can’t set up another work zone to the left or right of the median work zone,” Patel said. “We only want a small gap of two lanes open rather than three.”

Throughout the project, crews must maintain access to all driveways during business hours and at least one driveway for each property at all times.

“Maintaining the three lanes and access to the properties is the biggest challenge,” Patel said. “There’s a lot of coordination needed for the project’s work zone set-up.”

Hidden Infrastructure
On top of those complications, the corridor includes unknown, underground structures and utilities.

“We look at as-built plans, but with this roadway dating back to 1960, every time we dig we find something new,” Patel said.

When that happens, the contractor and NJDOT engineers investigate, sometimes with the help of East Brunswick Township, then figure out how to adapt.

After unearthing one concrete structure, “We found there was a culvert because there used to be an old railroad,” Patel said. “Our utilities and drainage system needed to cross that culvert, so we punctured the sidewall and ran the utilities and drainage through there.”

For the majority of new infrastructure, crews excavate an open-cut trench and install new pipes. However, for two large drainage pipes in a culvert across the roadway, NJDOT decided to install a cured-in-place concrete liner inside the existing 36-inch-diameter, corrugated metal pipe.

“We looked at removing those pipes and putting in new ones, but it wasn’t cost-effective,” Patel said.

Mitigation Through Communication
Traffic in the corridor comes from a variety of sources. Among the many businesses are two malls with particularly heavy traffic during the holiday season. The route’s connection to the Jersey Shore increases traffic volumes in the summer. Just north of the project limits is an interchange for the New Jersey Turnpike.

Rutgers University’s football stadium in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is only a few miles away, leading to more traffic on fall weekends. Three other schools and two hospitals are also in the vicinity of the project.

As a result, communication plays a key role in traffic maintenance. “Any time we have a stage change or a major event that might have traffic impact, we involve our community relations office, East Brunswick Township, and state police,” Patel said.

“On top of that, we have a task force that meets quarterly during the project,” he said. “They coordinate with a lot of businesses and make sure they’re aware of any changes in staging or work establishment.”

The task force includes representatives from NJDOT’s Emergency Management Office, Traffic Operations Center, Government and Community Relations Office, and the Resident Engineer’s office, as well as East Brunswick Township, Middlesex County, and Rutgers.

“It’s a great stakeholder collaboration for this project, not only during design, but also in construction,” said Zoila Mejia-Aragona, NJDOT’s Project Manager. “With any incident or event, everybody is kept informed of what’s happening on Route 18 so we can take proper action and mitigate the situation as soon as possible.”

Key Project Personnel
  • Owner – New Jersey Department of Transportation; Jignesh Patel, Resident Engineer; Zoila Mejia-Aragona, Project Manager
  • Designer – HNTB Corporation, Newark, New Jersey
  • Contractor – Earle Asphalt Company, Wall, New Jersey
By the Numbers
At just over 4 miles, the Route 18, East Brunswick Drainage and Pavement Rehabilitation project includes:

  • 19,000 linear feet of gas main pipe
  • 21,000 linear feet of water main pipe
  • 21,000 linear feet of median concrete barrier
  • Nearly 100,000 tons of asphalt

Photos courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Transportation

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