By MADDY VITALE
The Townsends Inlet Bridge linking Sea Isle City and Avalon is over 81-years-old and motorists continue to use the aging structure.
Over the last few years, it has undergone extensive repairs and rehabilitation. But, it is not enough, officials agree.
And after decades of problems, and many shutdowns, and discussion over a new bridge to replace the dinosaur of bridges, there is a plan, albeit in concept at the moment, to put motorists on a brand new span to their favorite resort towns.
During a Cape May County Bridge Commission meeting Thursday, chief engineer of the commission Lewis Donofrio outlined the start to a plan for a new bridge.
“The county has authorized the county engineer to hire an engineer to begin the concept development phase,” he noted during the virtual meeting. “It is the first step to eventually replace the bridge.”
He explained that among the areas included in the initial phase would be what the scope of the work a consultant would do and how long it would take.
There will be opportunities by the public for input as well as meetings for officials to go over plans of what could and should be there and securing funding for the monumental project, Donofrio explained.
“There is money for the concept development phase, but there is nothing concerning actual construction,” he said.
The construction of a new bridge is expected to cost between $65.7 million and $167.7 million, the report said.
The county does not have the money to replace the bridge, but hopes to eventually secure state and federal funding to build a new one.
After a public comment period through a series of public meetings, the bridge commission would “seek a consultant to start the project by 2022,” Donofrio said, emphasizing that it would just be the initial phase.
The Townsends Inlet Bridge is one of five bridges operated by the Cape May County Bridge Commission that connect the beach communities along the scenic Ocean Drive.
While the bridge is open, the series of closures for repairs has frustrated motorists and officials.
“Obviously, the existing bridge can’t carry modern loads,” Donofrio said, adding that there is a need for a bridge that meets the needs of motorists of today.
Back in 2017, an engineering consultant recommended building a new bridge parallel to the existing one to keep traffic flowing at all times. Once the new bridge is finished, the old one would be demolished.
Under the projected timeline, preliminary work such as completing the designs, engineering and obtaining the regulatory permits might take as long as six years. Construction would add another three years, meaning the earliest a new bridge would open is 2029, the report said.