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New Jersey’s Route 3/Route 46 Interchange Improvement Project Enters Second Phase

by: Mark Bird
Construction work is progressing on the second (Contract B) phase of New Jersey’s Route 3, Route 46, Valley Road and Notch/Rifle Camp Road Interchange Project. The federally funded New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) project, located in Passaic County, is intended to improve safety, reduce congestion, and provide additional local traffic driving options along an overcrowded route just outside New York City.

As Steve Schapiro, NJDOT Deputy Manager of Communications, explains, “This project is designed to correct existing operational and safety problems along Route 46, Route 3, and at the Route 3/Route 46/Valley Road Interchange that have resulted in a high occurrence of crashes and chronic bottlenecks. We are addressing several problems which exist within the project limits, including inadequate acceleration and deceleration lanes; narrow shoulder widths; closely spaced driveways and access points; poor sight distance; and reduced lanes on Route 3 westbound.”

Given the extensive nature of the project, the challenges inherent when working in a densely-populated and high-traffic area – including utility relocation needs – the Route 3/Route 46 Interchange Improvement Project was divided into two separate contracts, Schapiro reports. “Contract A focused primarily on improvements to the flow of local traffic for residents and businesses in the area, constructing the new Great Notch Road, Notch Road Bridge and Clove Road Bridge along with improving local access to Route 46 and local businesses. The work also included the majority of advance utility relocation.

“Contract B is designed to address roadway alignment issues on Route 3 and Route 46, which will benefit both local and regional traffic.”

Construction for the federally funded Contract A began in January 2016 and was completed in October 2019; the Contract A construction contract final cost was approximately $60 million. Relocation of as many utilities as possible away from the highway was a primary aspect of this phase, as was the construction of a mile-long service road designed to move local traffic off Route 46.

This first phase also included the construction of the new Great Notch Road, a new bridge over Route 46 from Great Notch Road to Clove Road, three signalized intersections, and two single-lane roundabouts parallel to Route 46 to remove local traffic from the state highway. The primary contractor for Contract A was J.F. Creamer & Sanzari.

Contract B Includes Realignment, Widening, Multiple New Bridges
The $185 million (also federally funded) Contract B portion of the Route 3/Route 46 Interchange Improvement Project includes the realignment and widening of Route 46, as well as the construction of wider shoulders, acceleration, deceleration, and auxiliary lanes. At the Route 3/Route 46 interchange, a three lane Route 3 section will replace the existing two-lane connections, and Route 46 will be realigned to better converge with Route 3. The new interchange includes five new bridge structures, a new signalized intersection, and a new multi-lane roundabout. This work is anticipated to be completed in 2024.

The primary contractor for Contract B is Union Paving & Construction Co. The project designer is Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. (Albert W. Roughgarden P.E., Project Manager). Leading the project from NJDOT are Hardev Dave, Project Manager; Vijay Patel, Assistant Project Manager; and Mike Everett, Resident Engineer.

Contract B includes the addition of one new multi-lane roundabout at the intersection of Valley Road and Great Notch Road. Initially, a traditional four-way signalized intersection was conceptualized for the Valley Road/Great Notch Road/Route 3 eastbound Exit Ramp Intersection. However, during Preliminary Engineering NJDOT identified several issues with the signalized intersection that were resolved by the introduction of a roundabout.

Project Manager Hardev Dave comments, “NJDOT is using roundabouts as a possible design alternative to the more traditional traffic circles or conventional intersections where appropriate on a project-by-project basis. Roundabouts are considered a traffic calming device. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), roundabouts ‘are often safer, more efficient, less costly, and more aesthetically appealing than conventional intersection designs.’ They are considered a proven safety countermeasure because they reduce crashes that result in injuries or fatalities by about 80 percent compared to conventional intersections with stop signs or traffic signals according to the AASHTO Highway Safety Manual. Another benefit is they improve safety not only for motorists, but for pedestrians and bicyclists as well.

“As an example, to accommodate left turn movements from Valley Road northbound to Great Notch Road westbound at the signalized intersection, Valley Road would have needed to be widened to provide a dedicated left turn lane in the northbound direction. The left turn lane would have extended beneath the bridge requiring a longer Route 46 bridge structure. Introducing the roundabout eliminated the need for the left turn lane allowing for a reduced roadway section, and shorter bridge structure resulting in reduced impacts and reduced costs.

“In addition, the new bridge structure over Valley Road will be significantly wider than the existing bridge structure. The new wider structure would partially obstruct a motorist view of the signal on the northbound Valley Road approach. Introducing the roundabout eliminated the issue of limited visibility of traffic signal equipment.

“A motorist exiting Route 46 westbound to Valley Road was not able to turn left onto Valley Road southbound prior to the construction of Contract A. They needed to turn right and do a U-turn to Valley Road southbound. Signalizing the intersection would have eliminated the existing U-turn, requiring motorists to travel nearly one mile out of the way to reach their intended destination.”

Schapiro adds that during Contract A, two roundabouts were constructed – one at the intersection of Lackawanna Avenue, Rifle Camp Road, Great Notch Road, and Notch Road on the north end of the Notch Road Bridge, and another built at the south end of the new Clove Road Bridge. This was designed to improve local access to and from Route 46.

This earlier phase of the project also included the restoration of a bridge over Route 46 at Notch Road.

Contract B will replace or rebuild five bridge structures, Dave reports. “At nearly 80 years old, all of the existing bridges are either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient – or in some cases both – and with the reconstruction and reconfiguration of the Route 3/Route 46/Valley Road interchange, new interchange ramps will be constructed requiring all affected bridges to be replaced. Each one will be designed to improve physical condition and substandard vertical under clearance.”

Deemed an Essential Project, Construction Moves Ahead
As with any project in such a busy area, the Route 3/Route 46 Interchange Improvement Project has dealt with its share of challenges, including utility conflicts, right-of-way clearance, restricted work areas, traffic mitigation, and other typical issues. Schapiro says, “Of course, keeping the highway open to motorists during construction is a challenge by itself. These issues were carefully considered during the Final-Design phase to ensure that any mitigation strategies would have a minimal effect on the project’s scope, schedule, and cost.

“Weather can present challenges with any project, and this one is no exception. The project was designed so that paving and other weather-sensitive stages could be completed during the warmer months.”

Of course, in addition to the usual, expected challenges, the Route 3 /Route 46 project has been underway in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Schapiro reports that, to date, work on the project has not been delayed. “Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 122 on April 9, which ceased all non-essential construction projects. However, NJDOT’s construction activities are considered essential. The executive order defines a list of essential construction projects that may continue, including ‘transportation projects, including roads, and bridges, and mass transit facilities or physical infrastructure, including work done at airports or seaports.’

“NJDOT has expanded available lane closure hours on most projects to take advantage of lower traffic volumes,” Schapiro adds. “In some instances, work that would typically take place overnight is being completed during daytime hours. This will hopefully allow contractors to stay on schedule and perhaps get ahead.”

A Smoother Traffic Flow
With the completion of the Contract A phase and Contract B progressing, the Route 3, Route 46, Valley Road and Notch/Rifle Camp Road Interchange Project is already having a positive impact in the area. Traffic is flowing more smoothly in general, and the new service road has generated a major improvement in local traffic.

Dave comments, “In addition to roadway and structural considerations, the existing corridor has other infrastructure elements that need improvement. These elements include guide rail, lighting, signing, median barriers and drainage elements. Through these improvement project efforts, these and other infrastructure elements will be brought up to date to meet current standards.

“In the short term, local residents have seen numerous improvements made to improve access to highways and local businesses. In many cases, residents will be able to utilize the new Great Notch Road to avoid travel on Route 46 completely. In the long-term, realigning the interchange will reduce congestion and improve safety. The overall project will allow traffic to flow better and give commuters more driving options and ultimately result in fewer crashes.”