The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is planning a rockfall mitigation project along a three-mile section of Route 29 in Kingwood Township NJ, beginning in Byram and proceeding north through the Devil’s Tea Table area. While the project is designed to improve public safety by remediating the rockface and installing rockfall control measures, this area is within the Lower Delaware Wild & Scenic River corridor and provides “remarkable scenic values.” The area also parallels the Delaware River Scenic Byway, a designation by the USDOT, endorsed by the NJDOT. The area also has unique local, historical and geological significance, and holds religious significance to Native American peoples. The area to be impacted contains at least three tributaries to the Delaware River and a number of endangered species inhabit the impacted area.
The area is widely regarded as one of the most scenic areas in the country and attracts thousands of tourists to this portion of the river corridor.
The project is a massive undertaking and will dramatically affect the “remarkable scenic values” of the three-mile area. It currently includes:
- Widespread removal of trees and vegetation,
- Blasting on much of the rockface, rock removal, scaling and reinforcement,
- Installing metal mesh or “draping” materials to the rockface, the creation of a new barrier or a “catchment ditch,” and,
- Applying concrete(shotcrete) to the smoothed rockface around and including the Devil’s Tea Table geologic structure,
- Disrupting the flow of three stream tributaries to the Delaware River.
When and if complete, the mitigation as planned will radically change the visual nature of the river valley in the area, forever.
Residents living in Kingwood Township, NJ and Tinicum Township, PA, anyone driving, hiking, or biking on either side of the river and the adjacent trails and anyone boating, fishing, tubing, swimming in the river will see a very different, industrial-looking rockface after the mitigation project is complete.
The project will negatively impact wildlife including a number of endangered species of plants, animals and fish living in the area, and could damage wells, septic systems and homes of residents in the area.
The project will negatively impact tourism businesses and property values in the area.
The pending road closures and delays along RT 29 will increase traffic congestion and reduce safety.
NJDOT contends they do not need public hearings or any environmental impact studies to move ahead with the project as it is a public safety issue, yet an OPRA request revealed NJDOT has no record of accidents or injuries from rockfall incidents in the area.
NJDOT presents minimal and questionable rockfall data to justify this dramatic project, now priced at $33 million federal dollars.
The rockfall hazard scores used to justify the project are from a 1994 study. Since then large trucks have been banned which should reduce those scores. Also looking at the rockfall hazard data that generated the 1994 scores, some of the rockfall data is questionable and we suggest those be redone.
Rt 29 in Kingwood remains a low traffic volume, wide, mostly flat, straight, country road with full-lane paved shoulders, and a relatively low speed limit that could be lowered to further reduce risk.
Four of the eight options offered to the NJDOT in the 2015 HNTB Concept Development Report to address the rockfall concerns (quoted below) offer far less aggressive and destructive mitigation solutions, but were never discussed with the public, community stakeholders or elected officials that we know of. Those options all need to be carefully reconsidered. Those options include:
“Option 2—Warning: install rockfall warning fence. This option would not reduce rockfall hazard but would reduce the risk through the installation of warning fences to protect the safety of the traveling public.
Option 3 — Monitoring: Inclineometer, tiltmeter and/or routinely scheduled LiDAR surveys. This option would not reduce rockfall hazard but would reduce the risk through the installation of monitoring instruments to protect the safety of the traveling public
Option 7 – Protection: Raise roadway elevation or shift roadway west. This option would protect the highway by creating a catchment area.
Option 8 — Protection: Rock shed over road. This option would protect the highway by constructing a rock shed over the highway.”
From studying the available NJDOT rockfall data, the areas of most risk seem to cluster in relatively narrow portions of the 3-mile area and the existing negligible risk could be greatly mitigated by enabling one or more of the above in those areas.
Others in the area share our concerns:
In March 2021, Kingwood Township passed a resolution opposing the project based on failure by NJDOT to answer pressing questions raised by Twp. stakeholders, and NJDOT’s desire to have the project excluded from environmental assessment and receive a categorical exclusion under NEPA.
Also in March, The Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic Partnership sent a request to Hunterdon County raising many serious concerns about the project and urging the county to get involved.
On April 20 Hunterdon County Commission voted unanimously to enact a resolution requesting NJDOT halt the Rt. 29 rockfall mitigation project until it is further reviewed by the community, its agencies and elected public officials, and appropriate environmental assessments are conducted.
On May 5th, at the urging of the Frenchtown Environmental Commission, that borough passed a resolution supporting Kingwood and Hunterdon and echoing their concerns and requests.
On June 5, the Tribal Council of the Lenape Nation of PA voted to oppose the project and penned a strong letter of concern to all involved.
On July 13, the Tinicum Twp. Bucks County PA, Board of Supervisors, passed a resolution supportive of resolutions from several neighboring NJ municipalities. That resolution expressed concern over damage to the area’s environment, view shed, wildlife, economy and sites of historical and religious significance to Native American Tribes if the project proceeds as planned.
Additionally, extensive reporting by USA Today reporters over the last year has revealed serious questions about how the NJDOT has developed several rockfall projects including the Rt. 29 project. All are using federal funds and all similarly avoid consultation with local officials, resist environmental impact reviews, are based on very questionable rockfall data, are not based on a cost benefit analyses, start small and grow exponentially in price and scope, and benefit the same group of contracting firms.
The project is being paid for mostly by Federal funds that can be repurposed for other more pressing public safety needs.
Join our Email list and help us convince federal, state and local authorities to act:
- We are requesting the Federal Highway Administration(FHWA) and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority NJTPA, to review the RT. 29 Rockfall project in Kingwood and require NJDOT to obtain full input by the public and elected officials on the projects need, design and implementation before proceeding further. Also, to require that a thorough environmental impact process be conducted and a review of potential damage to wells, sceptic systems, homes, tourism and other business interests within the Wild and Scenic Corridor.
- We have been requesting PA and NJ municipalities in the area to pass resolutions questioning the project.
- We are requesting that the National Park Service require an independent “Environmental Impact Statement” process be conducted around this project.
- We are requesting that NJDOT, in consultation with community representatives, evaluate other public safety projects that might be more beneficially addressed with the available federal funds.