06 November 2020

The Old Flagtown Bridge (1912 - 1991)

In April of 1967, the State Board of Public Utilities Commission ordered the Lehigh Valley Railroad to submit plans for the reconstruction of the Flagtown Bridge. The Commission offered to pay 95% of the estimated $200,000 price tag and set a date of August 1, 1967, for submission of the plans. And then for the next 19 years, exactly nothing happened...

19 April 1986 Courier News

...except for the continued deterioration of the bridge. The Lehigh Valley Railroad built the 25-foot wide bridge to separate the dangerous South Branch Road grade crossing around 1912. But by the mid-1950s the railroad was in serious financial trouble, finally declaring bankruptcy in 1970. The railroad continued to operate through the bankruptcy, but repairing the bridge was out of the question.

22 August 1911 Courier News

Conrail - which acquired the assets of the LVRR in 1976  - likewise had no intention of repairing the bridge. In fact, they abandoned ownership of it altogether. A January 1985 state inspection report declared the bridge to be in "fair condition and needing only minor rehabilitation." Hillsborough residents were incredulous. Things came to a head in February 1986 when the Hillsborough Board of Education stopped allowing school busses to cross the bridge.

19 April 1986 Courier News

Rust, missing guide rails, and rotted planks - which made up the roadbed - were some of the more serious issues. Somerset County weighed in and agreed that the bridge needed immediate attention - but was unwilling to do anything about it - demanding that the state repair the bridge. At this point, Conrail suddenly decided that they owned the bridge once again, but couldn't get to it for another three years. And with that, Somerset County shut down the bridge. In the end, the state, county, and even Conrail, all contributed to repairs which took place in the summer of 1986.

26 July 1992 Courier News

Even before repairs were complete residents were agitating for a completely new bridge. A narrow 1912 bridge with wooden deck planking was just not adequate for modern Hillsborough. Plans for a new wider (32 feet) and higher bridge were approved in 1988 and work began in 1991. After multiple delays - which some say led to an automobile/train collision at the Beekman Lane crossing - the new bridge finally opened in the fall of 1992.

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