By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
As the days and weeks passed by during last summer’s critical tourism season, the Townsends Inlet Bridge connecting Sea Isle City and Avalon remained closed for a reconstruction project that had fallen about two months behind schedule.
Cape May County officials, not wanting to lose the entire summer, made the major decision then to work with the construction contractor to speed up the work to finally get the county-owned bridge reopened.
The bill for that extra work has come in: $179,334. The county Freeholder Board approved the payment to Agate Construction Co. Inc. of Ocean View on Tuesday.
County Engineer Robert Church explained that the payment covered the overtime costs that accumulated when construction crews began working extra shifts and on Saturdays and Sundays in the final push to get the bridge reopened.
The county also paid extra for changes in the “standard methods of construction” to accelerate the project, Church noted.
One example is that much of the bridge deck and sidewalk work were done by pumping concrete onto the bridge.
Pumping significantly cut down on the time for the work instead of using a concrete truck, but the process was more expensive.
“Pumping the concrete within a short window saved many days if not weeks from the work schedule but came at a cost for the pumping equipment, setup and additional labor associated with pumping concrete rather than just discharging it from a truck,” Church said in an email.
The county’s payment of $179,334 represented a relatively small cost compared to the bridge project’s original $8.6 million price tag.
The bridge’s extensive reconstruction, which dragged on for 10 months, included replacing seven deteriorated spans on the Avalon side.
As the delays mounted, the county decided that it had to take action, even if it meant the bridge work would cost extra, Church pointed out.
“However due to the economic impact that the closure was having and its impact on emergency services and the public in general, the County made the decision to do whatever we could to push the opening date up as much as possible once it was clear that the original opening date could not be attained,” he said.
The bridge finally reopened on July 25, about two months later than originally planned. The project was supposed to be completed shortly before Memorial Day, but the contractor ran into two “major setbacks” that caused delays, Church said.
At one point, one of the bridge’s support piers collapsed into another during demolition work and both of them ended up submerged in Townsends Inlet and had to be pulled out, causing delays. Another pier began settling in the inlet’s sandy bottom, which added to the delays.
“Both of these issues had a significant impact on the original project schedule, and it became clear that if the County was to have the bridge opened at some point during the summer, then additional overtime shifts would be needed as would working on Saturdays and Sundays,” Church said.
At the time, the bridge’s lengthy closure frustrated and angered elected officials and business leaders in both Sea Isle and Avalon. Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio and Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi issued a joint statement in late March demanding “nothing less than full disclosure” about the construction delays.
The two mayors had warned then that the loss of such a vital transportation link would harm businesses on both sides of the bridge.
When it is open, Townsends Inlet Bridge allows motorists to make a short hop to travel between Sea Isle and Avalon. When it is closed, drivers must follow a lengthy detour on the Garden State Parkway or Route 9 for trips between both towns.
Built in 1939, the antiquated bridge has gone through a series of shutdowns in recent years for structural repairs, maintenance work and related road construction. Estimates to build an entirely new bridge range from $105 million to $175 million.
The county does not have the money to replace the bridge, but hopes to eventually secure state and federal funding to build a new span.
In the meantime, the objective at this point is to perform only critical upgrades to the bridge that will extend its functional life, Church explained.
“The long term plan is to eventually replace the structure, although there is no definitive time line for that, but a long term plan is being considered and will be the subject of further evaluation by the (Freeholder) Board,” he said in his email.