A battle is brewing over a proposed rock wall along Route 80 in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has been instructed by federal officials to build a half-mile-long retaining wall along the interstate to mitigate the threat posed by rock slides. But mayors in local towns are questioning whether this is necessary.

They also claim it will cause a traffic horror show, and they’re strongly opposed to the design of the wall, insisting it looks like something out of the movie "Jurassic Park."

Hardwick  Mayor Kevin Duffy said the proposed fence isn’t needed because only one person has been killed in a rock slide accident on the highway in 16 years.

“The cost is excessive. The aesthetics, the damage to the view-sheds will be permanent. The traffic will be a nightmare. It will have an economic impact and law enforcement and first responders, you’re putting lives at risk — they will be delayed responding to emergencies," he said.

Steve Schapiro, a spokesman for the DOT, said the area where the project is being planned has been identified by the Federal Highway Administration as having the highest rock-fall hazard risk in New Jersey.

A total of 25 rock-fall incidents have been documented from 2001 to 2017. Eleven of those caused 14 vehicle crashes, most of which were single-car accidents with the exception of one that involved two vehicles and resulting in a death, state records show.

Courtesy Adele Starrs

Duffy said if the project moves forward, not only will traffic on Route 80 become jammed, it will send a lot of cars and trucks onto local roads, causing additional congestion and dangerous conditions.

“And it will stop people from coming to the Water Gap Park," he added. "We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue loss here.”

Duffy said the DOT initially ignored public-records requests to get information about the project. When they finally handed it over, several pages had been blacked out.

The DOT has already erected this kind of fence in the nearby town of Knowlton.

Knowlton Mayor Adele Starrs said it's ugly.

“It’s huge industrial beams, heavy industrial fencing," she said.

She said the DOT last year claimed there were nine rock fall events, but now they’re saying the number is actually 25.

She added this is nothing more than a problem in search of a solution

Schapiro said the DOT has done extensive outreach. The project will not cause big traffic problems because no lanes will be closed except for brief times when blasting will be necessary. The final design of the wall, which will be paid for with federal funds, has not been determined yet.

He said that since 2011, there have been 15 meetings with stakeholders, including three local official briefings and two public information meetings/open houses since mid-2017.

An environmental assessment with a formal public hearing are expected to be completed in the summer of 2020.

In addition, the final design and what it may look like are yet to be determined.

Information about rockfall incidents and crashes is available on the project website.

 

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com