NEW BRUNSWICK — The heavy machinery carving Route 18’s reconstruction through the city reaches closer to the Raritan River each day.
For the men who have lived for months, maybe years, in a pair of abandoned truck trailers anchored near the George Street offramp, that means just one thing: They must soon leave.
A state Department of Transportation edict recently posted on the trailers spells out as much. On 8 1/2-by-11 sheets of paper, typed black script reads: “Construction Zone: Demolition to start August 14 — Please vacate the area.” A Spanish translation follows.
Other than contractors prepping an additional lane on Route 18 Friday, no one else was in the vicinity of the retaining wall that for now serves as a partition between the state road and the river below.
That concrete wall’s days are numbered, though. Demolition of the George Street off-ramp leading to the Douglass College campus is imminent, according to the DOT.
At least one person is still living in the abandoned trailers, one of which once belonged to a Wall Township firm, according to faded signs on its front end.
The trailers were abandoned by a contractor who worked on the restoration of the Delaware & Raritan Canal locks in 1999. Other heavy equipment was also left behind to rust after that project and the associated renovation of the towpath between the river and the canal.
Apart from a pair of mooring bollards at the riverside, a few hundred feet from the trailers, nothing among the overgrowth and mounds of twisted rebar hints at the city’s once bustling port, where stevedores loaded and unloaded hundreds of tons of coal, brick, rubber, wool, lumber, paper and foodstuffs weekly.
Scores of empty Natural Ice beer cans, work boots, rusting bicycle frames, a baby carriage, a shopping cart and a carry-on suitcase stand out among the piles of debris.
An hour or so before Friday afternoon’s torrential rains pounded New Brunswick, only scampering, agile rats could be seen in and around the trailers, which are parked just east of the Rutgers boathouse.
While the land the trailers sit on belongs to the state — the city transfered ownership prior to the start of the road project — both city and state officials have tried to find accommodations for the men who live there.
Those efforts, though, have been frustrated by the lack of shelters locally, said city Administrator Thomas A. Loughlin III.
“I have not been successful in finding them alternate living situations,” Loughlin said Friday afternoon.
The only year-round facility offering transitional housing for single men in Middlesex County, the 40-bed Ozanam shelter on Neilson Street, has a long waiting list. Loughlin said state officials have also been diligent about trying to find living arrangements for the men. “They’re concerned about these guys . . . but they’re also trying to keep the project moving,” he said.
Recently installed wood spikes and spray-painted hieroglyphics and the word “Remove” on the retaining wall indicate the scope of that portion of the $200 million road project.
A row of a dozen numbered wooden stakes spreads from just underneath the arcing off-ramp reaching to the trailers. The row, skipping a few numbers, continues on the side of the trailers closest to the boathouse.
The trailers will be dismantled and disposed of before the wall and the massive off-ramp looming above it come thundering down within the next few weeks. By then, what happens to the men who have lived off and on for months and years inside the trailers will likely be just another footnote in the city’s fluid history.