Deteriorated spans are being removed and replaced on the Avalon side of the Townsends Inlet Bridge.

By Donald Wittkowski

The only way to travel now between Sea Isle City and Avalon across Townsends Inlet is by boat or to swim.

Construction crews overseeing the $8.6 million renovation of the Townsends Inlet Bridge have begun removing deteriorated spans on the Avalon side.

The work has created a gap in the bridge, making it impossible for any car or truck to travel all the way across between both towns.

“It looks like a whole section of the bridge is missing now,” Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.

Seven deteriorated spans on the bridge are being replaced as part of an eight-month overhaul. In all, there are 27 spans that comprise the entire structure.

The bridge closed on Sept. 17 for reconstruction and is not expected to reopen until May 22, 2019, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the bustling summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore.

A “Bridge Closed” sign and barriers block the way on the Sea Isle side.

Desiderio said one of the bridge’s piers unexpectedly collapsed and fell into the water during construction on Saturday evening and will have to be pulled out of the inlet.

“It did no damage to the bridge,” he said. “They are getting the pier out of the water.”

Hauling the pier out of the inlet is expected to take a few days, but will not cause any serious delays for the project, he added.

“They’re still on track,” Desiderio said.

Cape May County Engineer Robert Church could not be reached for comment Wednesday about the pier. The Townsends Inlet Bridge is owned by the county.

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. Last year, it was closed for emergency repairs from April to late June after a structural crack and severe deterioration were discovered on the Avalon side during an underwater inspection.

Construction crews are using a floating barge, at right, as a platform for one of the large cranes.

The renovation project underway now is designed to keep the bridge in service until a combination of county, state and federal funding can be found to replace it altogether. Desiderio said it would take about 10 years to plan, design and build a new bridge even if the money becomes available for the estimated $105 million to $175 million project.

In the meantime, motorists who had been able to make a short hop over the bridge between Sea Isle and Avalon now have to follow a lengthy detour on the Garden State Parkway or Route 9 for trips between both towns.

With the bridge no longer available, Desiderio noted that he had a roundabout 15-mile, one-way trip from his house to the Avalon Yacht Club to attend a recent political function.