BELMAR, NJ — State transportation officials confirmed yesterday that the Main Street/Route 71 bridge over the Shark River will be replaced with one just like it — a low-level movable span that will stand several feet taller and will be situated about three feet west of the current bridge.
During the second public information session on the project held on June 8, N.J. Department of Transportation representatives formally announced the decision to move ahead with an “in-kind” 21-foot-tall drawbridge-style bridge and to scrap plans to build a much larger, fixed structure — a proposal that drew sharp criticism since the first public hearing in April.
And because the new bridge between Belmar and Avon-by-the-Sea will be built in two stages — one half at a time — there will be no road closures at any time with one lane of traffic in each direction at all times, according to DOT project manager George Kuhn, who presented details of the plan during the meeting held at the Belmar Municipal Building.
“Businesses will not be affected because the bridge will remain open year-round with a lane in each direction,” he told a gathering of about 60 people — a mixture of borough officials, residents and business owners. “There will be signage to reinforce that (Main Street) is open for business.”
Responding to concerns expressed by Belmar Mayor Brian Magovern, Kuhn assured the group that a company with experience in complex bridge building will be hired for the project. “There is only a handful of companies that can do this type of (movable) bridge,” he added.
While the small increase in the bridge’s height will allow for the passage of more boats traveling the Shark River channel, moving the new bridge about three feet to the west is needed so that it is not constructed too close to the existing bridge, which will remain operational as the new span is constructed in two phases.
“We’re going to build one half (of the new bridge), then the other half and then join them,” Kuhn explained, adding that construction will only be done during the off-season, primarily between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Since the $100 million bridge project is being federally funded, the state must comply with federal standards and requirements before the project can advance from its current “concept development phase” to the start of preliminary engineering, which is anticipated for the fall of 2019. Based on the current timeline, construction would begin in the fall of 2023 and last about three years.
Although the 86-year-old bridge was recently rehabilitated in 1989, 2011 and again in 2013 due to damage sustained during Superstorm Sandy, a federally required biennial inspection found the span is “on the borderline” of being structurally deficient — prompting the launch of the current project.
Kuhn also pointed out that because of the movable bridge’s age, parts are no longer available and must be specially made for any repairs to be done.
“(The bridge) is not unsafe. It’s just getting old and obsolete,” he said. “The longer we wait to do anything, the more it’s going to cost. Now we can stage it with little disruption.”