When the bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed this summer, drivers began to look nervously at other bridges on their commuting path. And indeed, more than one-fourth of New Jersey’s 6,411 bridges have been judged deficient or obsolete.

So it’s good that, finally, the tiny Alexander Road bridge over the railroad tracks in West Windsor is getting its makeover. Construction has begun and is expected to be over by next fall.

To everyone’s surprise, drivers have not yet had to endure a permanent detour over the bridge, only detours on the surrounding roads. Next summer, though, expect a 90-day detour.

The $10.6 million project will result in a brand-new bridge with the same number of lanes, two, but it will be wider, to allow for shoulders and sidewalks in each direction, making it appropriate for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Traffic coming from the train station parking lot is expected to flow more smoothly, because the T intersection will be replaced with a “round-about.”

“The Alexander Road project will improve motorist and pedestrian safety and decrease congestion by replacing the existing, outmoded bridge and intersection with a more efficient modern roundabout and a new steel bridge complemented by sidewalks and shoulders,” said Kris Kolluri, DOT commissioner, in a press release. “The new curbs, sidewalks and shoulders, which will benefit those traveling to and from nearby Princeton Junction Train Station, reflect Governor Corzine’s commitment to improve pedestrian facilities statewide.”

Another project aims at clearing up a dangerous bottleneck in the afternoon rush hour on Route 1, traveled by 80,000 vehicles every day. This project addresses the stretch of Route 1 South between Quakerbridge Road and the entrance to I-295. Most evenings there is a short delay at Meadow Road, a slightly longer delay at Quakerbridge Road, but then a big back up as three lanes of traffic try to squeeze onto the entrance ramps for I-95 and I-295. Fender benders are not uncommon.

This summer the DOT began work on a $2.7 million exit ramp to separate Route 1 southbound from the cars jockeying for position to get onto the highway. It is supposed to be finished by next summer.

One casualty of this “fix” is that the existing driveway near Joe’s Crab Shack, onto Route 1 South, will be closed. An existing connector roadway, providing access to and from businesses along Route 1 southbound, is supposed to be improved.

Note that this stretch of Route 1 (from the Carnegie Center south) is in a special safety zone. If you get a ticket along this stretch, your fine is doubled.

Expect to see a new overhead sign that will explain the traffic patterns. The work is done at night, and no lanes will be closed during the day.

This year’s traffic survey shows, once again, that the Washington/Harrison intersection is the biggest bottleneck for traffic going north in the morning, and south in the evening rush hour. The evening rush seems to have improved, perhaps because fewer people are working at the former Merrill Lynch site on Scudders Mill Road, so fewer cars are pouring onto the highway there.

Though no improvement is visible, the DOT says that 2008 funding is in place for one part of the three-part $130 million plan. Called the Route 1/Route 571/Penns Neck project, it would eliminate all the traffic lights north of the Carnegie Center.

The project to rebuild the Millstone River bridge, necessary for building a Harrison Street overpass, has received funding for 2008. The overpass would connect, in the short term, to single lane frontage roads parallel to Route 1. In the long term, if Sarnoff or a developer came up with the money, the overpass could connect to a road running through the Sarnoff Corporation property.

Last year the DOT said that, contingent on federal funding, construction could start on a new Millstone River bridge as early as 2009. Some believe that Princeton Healthcare System’s move to the FMC campus on Route 1 will jumpstart all three parts of the project. DOT’s only comment is that the bridge is funded for next year.

For the second part, the DOT would depress Route 1 underneath Washington Road. The DOT has said in the past that, if funds are available, work on this could start as early as 2010, but most people think that is very unlikely.

The third part of the plan is to connect Alexander and Washington roads by extending Vaughn Drive from where it ends at the Princeton Junction train station to Washington Road (Route 571). The Vaughn Drive extension is on the books to start as early as 2011, but if West Windsor’s transit village plans fall through, it will probably go on the state’s back burner.

The new bridge would cost about $14 million, extending Vaughn Drive would be $30 million, and realigning Harrison Street would be $55 million. In 2006 the DOT budgeted $1 million for 2006 and $5 million for $2007 for preliminary designs. The department is scheduled to produce the preliminary design in two years, late in 2008.

Where Route 1’s three lanes drop to two lanes in South Brunswick, DOT says it might make some minor improvements, including an extra lane at the intersections of New Road and Henderson Road and a modification of the intersection of Route 1 at South Brunswick Square and Whispering Woods Boulevard. Also possible are new signs at Raymond Road, Sandhill/Major roads, Black Horse Lane, and Cozzens/Adams lanes.

Out on I-95, you may have noticed new road surfaces from the Route 1 interchange almost to the Delaware River. The resurfacing began in March and is supposed to finish this fall. Some of the surfaces consist of a new crumb rubber asphalt mix, commonly referred to as quiet pavement. The department touts the eco-friendly composition of this pavement, which is made from recycled car tires.

You don’t need to wait to get out on the road to check the traffic. From your workplace, go to www.njcommuter.com to see the traffic cams along Route 1.

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