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In re Petition of County of Bergen

Decided: December 21, 1959.

IN THE MATTER OF THE PETITION OF THE COUNTY OF BERGEN FOR AN ORDER COMPELLING THE NEW YORK, SUSQUEHANNA AND WESTERN RAILROAD COMPANY TO REPAIR AND IMPROVE THE BRIDGE ON RIVER ROAD, OVER ITS TRACKS, IN THE BOROUGH OF EDGEWATER, BERGEN COUNTY, STATE OF NEW JERSEY. NEW YORK, SUSQUEHANNA AND WESTERN RAILROAD COMPANY, APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTY OF BERGEN AND BOARD OF PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSIONERS, RESPONDENTS



For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Burling, Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Schettino. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.

Francis

[31 NJ Page 257] On application of the County of Bergen, the Board of Public Utility Commissioners ordered the appellant, New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad Company,

to reconstruct or replace its bridge which carries River Road over the railroad tracks in the Borough of Edgewater. The appeal to the Appellate Division was certified by this court before argument there.

River Road is a county road which runs through Edgewater from its northerly boundary at Fort Lee Borough to the Bergen-Hudson County line. For the purpose of avoiding a grade crossing and of creating an overpass for River Road, the bridge involved was constructed in 1894. It was reconstructed in 1917. In both instances, the railroad assumed the expense.

The bridge consists of three main steel trusses which carry a floor system of timber beams running crosswise on them. A series of longitudinal stringers are superimposed on the floor beams, running in the direction of the trusses. On top of the stringers is a timber deck with a wooden plank roadway 30 feet wide. There is an eight-foot wooden plank sidewalk on one side of the roadway. Signs are posted indicating a gross load capacity per vehicle of 12 tons. Substantial testimony was offered to establish that the signs fairly represent the capacity. The Board made no finding to the contrary. But the railroad concedes that 12 tons constitute the maximum vehicle and load capacity. The County conceded, however, that a number of county-constructed bridges over county roads are limited to and posted for from 10 to 15 tons.

There are a number of industrial plants in Edgewater, and particularly in the River Road area. South of the bridge are three divisions of Allied Chemical Corporation (Gypsum Board, Plastics & Chemicals, and Barrett), Ford Motor Co., Central Freight Trucking Company, Lever Brothers, and Spencer Kellogg & Sons. To the north are Hill Bros. Coffee, Inc., Edgewater Oil Terminal, Aluminum Company of America, and Central Freight Trucking Corporation. Principal arteries of truck transportation between Edgewater and outside areas are: to New York and points east: Lincoln Tunnel (south of the bridge) and George

Washington Bridge (north of the bridge); to points south: New Jersey Turnpike and U.S. Routes 1 and 9; to the west: State Highways 4 and 46 (north of the bridge); to the north: State Highway 17 to the New York Thruway. River Road is not the only public thoroughfare leading from the vicinity of these industries to the main arteries. Susquehanna offered uncontradicted testimony showing the effect of using an alternate route to reach them. A light truck was driven from the Lever Brothers (south of the River Road bridge) to the George Washington Bridge. The trip, using River Road, is 5.1 miles and the travel time at a reasonable speed was 14 minutes. Using another road and avoiding the River Road bridge, the distance is four miles and required 12 minutes. The same operation was undertaken from the Hill Bros. location (north of the bridge) to the Lincoln Tunnel. Use of River Road and its bridge required 25 minutes and the distance is 5.3 miles. The alternate route covers 8.5 miles and took 28 minutes. Ordinary travel conditions are said to explain the relative difference in time when the latter course is taken. Since all of the plants referred to north and south of the bridge are fairly close together, the suggestion is that the differences in time and distance in using available alternate routes would be comparable.

A survey of traffic conditions on River Road (made in cloudy, rainy weather) indicated that between 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. the bridge was traversed by 2,966 vehicles, i.e., 2,254 automobiles, 618 trucks, and 78 ordinary common carrier type buses. Of course, each of these vehicles with its load weighed no more than 12 tons.

R.S. 48:12-49 provides:

"* * * Every railroad company * * * shall construct and keep in repair good and sufficient bridges and passages over, under and across the railroad * * * where any road * * * shall cross the same, so that public travel on the road is not impeded thereby. Said bridges and passages shall be of such width and character as shall be suitable to the locality in which they are situated." (Emphasis added)

There is no doubt that Susquehanna is subject to this statute. It matters not when the carrier was incorporated nor when the bridge was constructed; the obligation imposed is a continuing one. Newark v. Delaware, Lackawanna and Western R.R. Co., 42 N.J. Eq. 196 (Ch. 1886); Newark v. Erie Railroad Co., 72 N.J. Eq. 447 (Ch. 1907); Erie R.R. Co. v. Board of Public Utility Commissioners, 107 N.J.L. 409 (Sup. Ct. 1931), affirmed 109 N.J.L. 264 (E. & A. 1932). Thus, the burden of the railroad is to maintain the structure in such a state of width and character as not to impede public travel on the highway and so that it is suitable to ...


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