MANAHAWKIN, NJ – Few would dispute that Long Beach Island well earns its lustrous reputation. In season, generations of families spend time together enjoying the sun, sand, and surf. Locals collectively treasure the serenity when visitors go home. Meanwhile, the bridge to and from paradise suggests a story of another kind.
Depending on who you talk to, the bridge going from the mainland to LBI has a few names. Some call it the Causeway, although it is formally known as the Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has another label for the seemingly endless bridge construction. The various aspects of the Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges Project aren’t scheduled to conclude until 2024.
At yesterday’s Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce meeting, two representatives from the DOT provided information concerning the bridge. While making the infrastructure safe and reliable proves critical, the project includes other concerns as well.
According to Vanessa Meades, DOT Regional Coordinator, Government & Community Relations, the state has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a $9.6M environmental project. Remarkably, government authorities made nesting accommodations for a Peregine Falcone, an endangered species.
“The changes provided access to Cedar Bonnet Island for the first time,” shared Meades. “The former dredged material storage site was enhanced by the creation of wetlands, mitigation of freshwater wetlands, and improvement of stormwater basins in the ecologically sensitive Barnegat Bay watershed.”
Cedar Bonnet Island, located after the first bridge from the mainland to Route 72, has a short scenic walking trail. More than one person who attended the Chamber meeting remarked on its beauty. Another part of the Bay Bridges Project includes the provision for enhanced fishing, including the ability for those with disabilities to fish.
As improvements continue across the bridges, there is more accessibility for bikers and walkers. Meades referred to the lighting along the Causeway as iconic, calling them a “String of Pearls.” They will remain in effect.
DOT Project Manager, Capital Project Management George Kuhn said that the original project started with putting in a new bridge in 2013. “There are also the east and west thoroughfare bridges,” shared Kuhn. They are from Stafford, from what used to be called the Causeway.”
With two bridges in place, the newer structure accommodates westbound traffic from LBI to the mainland. The rehab to the older bridge included replacement of the deck and runs in the opposite direction. In case of an emergency such as Sandy, the bridges can be changed to go in one direction. In the case of evacuation, this would prove critical.
Kuhn addressed other area concerns as well, “At Marsha Drive, we are reconfiguring and putting in a basin,” Kuhn explained. “This will alleviate some of the traffic that occurs, as we have three lanes that go into one. We plan to expand the intersection.”
Recognizing that flooding remains a continued problem in the area, the DOT and other government agencies are focused on correcting potential hazards.
Keeping traffic fluid during construction has represented a challenge. Nonetheless, the DOT has attempted to plan accordingly, particularly when visitors come to enjoy LBI.
In the end, the goal is to provide a safe means of ingress and egress. For some, this may even mean walking over the bridge to enjoy what many consider the gem of the Jersey shore.