By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The massive concrete piers that support the Townsends Inlet Bridge are oddly covered in thick, white paint.
The uneven paint job may not win any awards for beauty, but what it conceals is much, much worse.
For years, the Sea Isle City side of the bridge has been used as a gigantic canvas of sorts for graffiti artists whose crude etchings have marred the appearance of the 85-year-old span.
But Cape May County and the Cape May County Bridge Commission have been fighting back since 2022 by covering up the graffiti with coats of white paint.
On Tuesday, the vast majority of the bridge piers appeared to be graffiti-free. Two of the piers, though, were spray-painted with expressions of love for someone with the initials “KJT.”
“Fly High KJT,” one piece of graffiti says in black paint. Another uses a heart symbol while proclaiming, “KJT We 💗 U!”
Before the coats of white paint were applied to cover the graffiti starting in 2022, the bridge was once filled with other romantic scribblings professing eternal love. Other graffiti artists had scrawled their initials on the piers.
The most bizarre piece of now-gone graffiti included multiple images of a man’s face surrounded by a monkey’s face, a garden gnome and a man sitting with his legs crossed amid the words “Don’t follow leaders.”
The way it is built, the Townsends Inlet Bridge hovers over the beach in the southern tip of Sea Isle, making it an easy target for graffiti artists who simply walk out to the piers and unleash their spray paint.
The bridge connects Sea Isle with Avalon. It was built in 1939 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. It is one of five toll bridges operated by the Cape May County Bridge Commission along the scenic Ocean Drive from Ocean City to Cape May.
Officials from the bridge commission and Cape May County could not be reached Wednesday for comment about their efforts to keep the bridge clear of graffiti.
In a 2022 interview, Cape May County Engineer Bob Church explained that the white paint was considered a first step to temporarily get rid of the graffiti. He indicated that at some point, the piers would be power washed all the way down to the bridge’s original concrete to permanently remove the graffiti.
Lewis Donofrio, the bridge commission’s former chief engineer, said during a meeting in 2021 that the Townsends Inlet Bridge probably has the worst graffiti problem of all five bridges operated by the agency.
Donofrio also indicated at that time that he planned to reach out to the Sea Isle Police Department to discuss ways of preventing the graffiti artists from coming back – perhaps with more foot patrols on the beach under the bridge during the busy summer tourism season.