BELMAR, NJ — Officials are in the process of determining a closure date for the Ocean Avenue bridge that connects Belmar and Avon-by-the-Sea so that emergency repairs can begin.

Monmouth County must first hire a contractor for the project, which will shut the span over the Shark River entirely to vehicles and pedestrians, but will allow for limited marine traffic as the movable bridge will remain in the open position.

With a projected start date within the next two weeks, county officials are confident that the bridge (W-43) will reopen by Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of the prime tourism season.

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The emergency work is needed after a routine inspection revealed the deterioration of the steel pinions that support the 84-year-old bridge when it opens and closes.

In a statement issued following the January 7 announcement of the bridge’s closing, Monmouth County Freehold Director Thomas Arnone said that the impact of past hurricanes on the state’s shoreline, including Sandy in 2012 and Irene in 2011, has contributed to the bridge’s decline — and the need for the emergency repairs.

“The Board of Chosen Freeholders recognizes that this emergency closure is extremely inconvenient for everyone who regularly travels across this bridge. However, as elected officials, it would be irresponsible to neglect the deterioration of the steel pinions that are so vital to the overall support of this bridge when it opens and closes,” said Arnone, who serves as liaison to the county’s Department of Public Works and Engineering,

“(The closure) is going to be a hardship for people who use Ocean Avenue,” said Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer during the borough council’s January 7 meeting. “But it’s work that needs to be done right away so (the bridge) is open for the summer.”

As a project start date draws closer, detour signs will be posted on both sides of Ocean Avenue  in Belmar and Avon. The nearest alternate route would be using the Main Street bridge (Route 71) over the Shark River Inlet that connects both boroughs.