By Donald Wittkowski
Everything about the Townsends Inlet Bridge reconstruction project seems big, really big.
There are gigantic construction cranes, massive floating work barges and huge steel piles that are being driven deep into the channel to serve as the bridge’s underpinnings.
Well, one thing does appear tiny – the hard hat-wearing construction workers who are dwarfed by the army of enormous machinery.
Newly released aerial video shot using a drone gives a striking birds-eye view of the project as it unfolds in the inlet between Sea Isle City and Avalon.
Hovering between 150 and 200 feet above the bridge, the drone captures the choreography that is needed between the construction workers, cranes and barges to undertake such a project.
Dramatic images show workers being hoisted by a crane, while they are standing inside a metal basket, to inspect the tops of the mammoth pipe-like piles before they are driven underwater to support the bridge.
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 stunning detail.
The newly released footage on YouTube is the third drone video of the project shot in recent months by Robert Blecha, IT administrator for Remington & Vernick, an engineering firm involved with the bridge work. Blecha said he plans to make more videos as the project continues through the spring.
“I want to document the project as much as I can,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I want the public to see it (in the drone video) because the bridge is closed off.”
The new video runs for nearly two minutes. Picturesque aerial views of the water, the beaches and Sea Isle and Avalon are featured along with the bustling construction site.
“You can really get the detail if you go closer,” Blecha said, explaining that he sometimes flies the drone as low as 150 feet over the bridge construction.
The bridge closed on Sept. 17 for reconstruction and is not scheduled to reopen until May 22, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the peak summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore.
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.
In all, there are 27 spans that comprise the entire 1,373-foot structure. Seven of the spans on the Avalon side were badly deteriorated and must be replaced.
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. In 2017, 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 five to 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.
“The county continues to move toward a total bridge replacement project that we are hopeful will be able to be under construction within the next five years,” Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said during his annual State of the City address on Feb. 13.
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.