By Donald Wittkowski
The Townsends Inlet Bridge linking Sea Isle City and Avalon likely will not reopen in time for the Fourth of July, a Cape May County official said Saturday in the latest update about the 80-year-old span’s reconstruction.
Cape May County, which owns and maintains the bridge, shocked both communities in March by revealing that the span is not expected to reopen until “late summer,” far later that the May 22 completion date that was originally announced.
Speaking at a community meeting in Ocean City on Saturday, county engineer Bob Church said it doesn’t appear the bridge will back in service in time for the Fourth of July. He was uncertain when it might reopen.
“It will be after the Fourth of July,” Church told audience members at the meeting.
In an interview afterward, he said it was unlikely the bridge would be ready for the Fourth of July.
“We’re not yet ready to say when the bridge will reopen,” he said.
Fourth of July is one of the high points of the summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore. Tens of thousands of visitors traditionally visit Sea Isle and Avalon to celebrate the holiday, hoping on the Townsends Inlet Bridge to travel between both towns.
The bridge’s lengthy closure has frustrated and angered elected officials and business leaders in both towns. They say the loss of such a vital transportation link will harm businesses on both sides of the bridge.
“Believe me, this T.I. Bridge not operating is a detriment to both communities,” Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said at the April 23 Council meeting. “It is a real headache.”
Desiderio and Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi issued a joint statement in late March demanding “nothing less than full disclosure” about the construction delays. They want the county to disclose its contingency plan to manage the bridge work through the critical summer tourism season.
Meanwhile, county officials are scheduled to meet Thursday with Agate Construction Co. Inc., the contractor overseeing the bridge’s $8.6 million repair project.
Church said it appears Agate has finally overcome a series of setbacks that have delayed the project in recent months.
“We’re in a lot better situation than we were a week ago,” he said in the interview. “We have a lot more certainty now.”
A new phase of construction will start on the bridge’s support piers on Tuesday. Once the piers are finished, the contractor expects to begin work on the bridge decking by June 15, Church said.
The county has blamed the construction delays on an array of problems, including demolition work, underwater salvage operations and unspecified “subsurface geotechnical complications.”
Altogether, there are 27 spans that comprise the entire 1,373-foot bridge. Seven of the spans on the Avalon side were badly deteriorated and must be replaced. The bridge closed in September when the work started.
At one point, one of the support piers collapsed into another during demolition work and both of them ended up submerged in the channel and had to be pulled out, causing delays.
“You basically had two piers on the bottom of the channel, which was not planned,” Church said.
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.