By Donald Wittkowski
In the first bit of encouraging news in months, the reconstruction project for the Townsends Inlet Bridge connecting Sea Isle City with Avalon is now progressing better than expected and the span may reopen as soon as July 30, Cape May County announced Friday.
Closed since last September for an $8.6 million repair project, the 80-year-old bridge was originally supposed to reopen before Memorial Day weekend. However, the county disclosed in March that construction delays would push back the completion date until sometime in “late summer.”
The announcement Friday clarified the late summer timetable to specify that July 30 is now the target date to reopen. Favorable weather has helped construction crews finish a number of critical parts of the project and work “has progressed better than projected,” the county said in a statement.
“As a result of this progress, we anticipate being able to open the bridge earlier than late summer as initially projected.” The statement said. “Currently, we project a probable opening date to be on or about July 30. While we have a reasonable level of confidence supporting this earlier date, there remain a number of critical construction activities to be completed in the next three weeks that could have an impact on the final completion date.”
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio, who also serves as a Cape May County freeholder, welcomed the latest news about the bridge, but tempered his optimism. He pointed out that the original deadline of May 22 for completing the bridge work was missed, so the revised timetable of July 30 should be greeted with some caution.
“I’m very happy to hear this, but seeing is believing,” Desiderio said. “I’m not going to get too excited until we get down the stretch and see if July 30 is for real.”
He added that he has been receiving regular reports about the bridge work from fellow Freeholder Will Morey, who remains optimistic that the project is back on track.
Desiderio and Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi have repeatedly warned about the negative economic impact on both towns by having such a vital transportation link closed down during the height of the summer tourism season.
“It’s going to hurt all of us,” Desiderio said.
(Drone video of Townsends Inlet Bridge courtesy of Remington & Vernick Engineers)
Boosted by gorgeous weather, Memorial Day weekend proved to be a blockbuster start to the summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore. Desiderio, though, is worried that the bridge shutdown could discourage visitors from heading to Sea Isle and Avalon in June, when tourism usually slows down somewhat before gearing up again in July.
With the bridge out of service, motorists must follow a lengthy detour on the Garden State Parkway or Route 9 for trips between Sea Isle and Avalon. They now have to endure about a 30-mile round-trip journey between both towns instead of taking a short hop over the bridge.
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, but the county does not have the money.
The repair project underway now is designed to replace seven deteriorated spans on the Avalon side.
Construction crews are currently focusing on completing the piers that support the bridge. If work proceeds as expected, the bridge deck should be done by June 21, the county said. Work on the final components such as the sidewalks and safety railing would follow before the bridge could reopen to traffic.
“The county has worked cooperatively with the contractor and engineering teams in order to advance quality work as quickly and responsibly as possible,” the county’s statement said. “Additionally, we continue to explore options to consolidate the construction schedule by permitting contract work to proceed concurrently where feasible.”
“We have also authorized acceptable changes in the methods of the work completion to accommodate our goal of reducing the remaining project schedule due to our keen awareness of the inconvenience this bridge closure has on the public and our continued focus on obtaining the earliest opening date possible,” the statement added.