When crews from New Jersey Natural Gas company began creating openings in Mantoloking Road, it looked like any other utility project. But for Brick residents, it was a surprise – especially since much of the busy thoroughfare had just been paved a couple of months earlier by Ocean County.
“This is a travesty,” said Brick Mayor John Ducey at a meeting of the township council this week. “It’s a total waste of taxpayer money.”
County officials tell a much different story, and say they completed the paving project despite having known the gas utility would need access because the roadway was in such poor condition that drivers could no longer wait for resurfacing. John Ernst, the Ocean County Engineer, told Shorebeat this week that the most recent work by the gas company was only a small project to map out gas mains so they could be replaced anywhere between one or two years from now. That presented county officials with a tough decision: pave a road that desperately needed work and risk it being reopened, or make drivers wait up to two years as the road continued to crumble.
Earlier this year, the county was working with a contractor that would have been responsible for paving the roadway, Ernst said, and as part of the usual planning process checked with utility companies to see if there were any projects on the horizon.
“We had some conversations with New Jersey Natural Gas and they told us they would be replacing a gas main and wanted us to hold off on paving the road, however we couldn’t really do that because of all the complaints we were receiving from Brick over the condition of the road in that area,” said Ernst.
That presented a classic “between a rock and a hard place” scenario.
“The road wouldn’t have held up another winter because it was in such bad shape,” said Ernst.
Ernst’s office came up with a plan. Instead of using a road construction contractor to pave, the county utilized its in-house paving team to resurface the road at a lower price. It was a larger job than the county usually takes on, but it was desperately needed, officials said.
“We pushed it up knowing that the gas company was going to come in in a year or two and put a new gas main in,” Ernst said.
Brick Township’s municipal government has an ordinance that sets a five-year moratorium on road openings after they’ve been paved, but Mantoloking Road is a county road. The county has a similar policy, but had to make an exception due to a combination of the present condition of the road and the long period of time – potentially two years – before the gas mains would be replaced. Because asphalt plants close for the winter in New Jersey, had Mantoloking Road not been paved before winter, there would have been no opportunity for the county to pave it until next spring or summer, meaning it could have become a pot-hole disaster area if left alone this winter.
The work New Jersey Natural Gas is performing right now is largely completed, and involved digging “investigative test pits” in order to generate a 3D map of the underground environment.
“They’re doing some investigative test pits to find out where their gas main is now to make sure there are no conflicts with any other utilities underground in anticipation of a main replacement,” said Ernst.
The county has told New Jersey Natural Gas that the road must be fully repaved after the mains are replaced. The county conditioned approval of a permit to open the road on an agreement that the gas company would do so.
“Typically, if they only [dug] a narrow trench, they would be require to patch the trench plus one foot on either side, but because it was just paved the road, they’ve agreed – and we made it a condition – that they repave the road,” said Ernst.
In the mean time, he said, the small areas that were reopened will be seamlessly repaired.
“They can use a hot mix and blend it in with an infrared machine to make the patch blend in perfectly,” said Ernst. “You’re not going to see those areas, and they’re going to restore those in a proper fashion.”
The decision to pave the road this year was one that had to be made, he said.
“It wouldn’t have lasted, so we had to do something,” said Ernst. “The gas company understood that we had to pave the road and they’re going to have to get the road back to where it had been.”
“We work well with the gas company on all of our projects and all of their projects, and there is a lot of cooperation between the two entities.”