By Donald Wittkowski
Barriers and “Bridge Closed” signs on both sides of the Townsends Inlet Bridge have prevented anyone from getting a close look at a major reconstruction project that has shut down the nearly 80-year-old span connecting Sea Isle City and Avalon.
New aerial footage posted on YouTube gives a stunning bird’s-eye view of the project as it unfolds under the direction of seemingly tiny construction workers dwarfed by massive cranes, barges and other heavy equipment.
The opening sequence of the two-minute, 13-second video, shot by the engineering firm Remington & Vernick using a drone, dramatically pans upward to reveal three red construction cranes towering over the bridge on the Avalon side.
About one-fourth of the old bridge is missing. It has been demolished and will be replaced as part of the bridge’s $8.6 million overhaul that will take until next May to complete.
In all, there are 27 spans that comprise the entire 1,373-foot structure. Seven of the spans on the Avalon side are badly deteriorated and must be replaced.
The drone footage gives a glimpse of the choreography that is needed between the construction workers, cranes and barges to undertake such a massive project. Workers in hard hats appear almost ant-like as the drone hovers high above them to video the action.
Patrick Rosenello, chairman of the Cape May County Bridge Commission, the agency that operates the Townsends Inlet Bridge, said the video should give the public and government leaders a better appreciation of the construction project.
“Being able to provide this type of coverage to the work that is being done is a benefit to both the Bridge Commission and the public,” he said. “It allows decision-makers and the general public to see firsthand the level of complexity that is involved in these type of construction projects, all from the comfort of your viewing device.”
The bridge closed on Sept. 17 for reconstruction and is not expected to reopen until May 22, 2019, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the bustling summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore.
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio, who is also a Cape May County freeholder, said construction remains on schedule during the early part of the project.
“It’s moving right along. It’s right on schedule,” he said.
With so many construction barriers and signs blocking off access to the bridge on both sides, the only way for anyone to get close to the site had been by boat. But the drone footage provides the public with panoramic views of the work in striking detail.
Two of the construction cranes are shown atop barges anchored in Townsends Inlet. The third crane sits on dry land while looming over the water. One part of the video shows a crane lifting a large piece of equipment as though it were a mere toy.
In the closing footage, the drone flies over the section of the bridge on the Sea Isle side that is still intact. Picturesque aerial views of the water, the beaches and the Townsends Inlet section in the southern tip of Sea Isle unfold as the video comes to an end.
The Townsends Inlet Bridge is part of a network of five bridges linking the Cape May County seashore towns along the scenic Ocean Drive that hugs the coast.
Built in 1939, the antiquated Townsends Inlet Bridge has gone through a series of shutdowns in recent years for structural repairs, maintenance work and related road construction. Last year, it was closed for emergency repairs from April to late June after a structural crack and severe deterioration were discovered on the Avalon side during an underwater inspection.
The renovation project is designed to keep the bridge in service until a combination of county, state and federal funding can be found to replace it altogether. Government officials say it would take about 10 years to plan, design and build a new bridge even if the money becomes available for the estimated $105 million to $175 million project.
In the meantime, motorists who had been able to make a short hop over the bridge between Sea Isle and Avalon now have to follow a lengthy detour on the Garden State Parkway or Route 9 for trips between both towns.