By Maddy Vitale
The Townsends Inlet Bridge, a vital transportation link connecting Sea Isle City and Avalon has reopened after a three-week closure for a maintenance project.
The reopening does not mean there will be full access on the bridge for traffic. Temporary traffic lights will continue to be in use to control the flow of cars. Motorists will be limited to only one alternating lane of traffic, according to Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster.
The bridge was closed from April 2 to Sunday to allow construction crews to install new steel railings along the sides of the span.
Foster said the work will continue until June and then will be suspended through the busy tourism season. He said the project will be about ¾ done when it is stopped in June and the rest of the project will be finished in the fall.
It is part of the $2.7 million maintenance project. The construction contract was awarded by the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders to Thomas Barry Marine Construction, Inc., South Dennis in September. Remington & Vernick Engineers, Haddonfield is overseeing the project for the county.
New steel railings will protect both the motor vehicle traffic and pedestrians using the bridge. They replace old, corroded railings that don’t meet modern safety standards. Some of the old railings date to the bridge’s original construction in 1939.
To replace the railing, the contractor removes a two-foot section of concrete in the safety walk and deck at each post locations, additional reinforcement steel is installed, and new concrete placed, according to a Cape May County press release.
The additional reinforcement steel is required to provide the strength needed to prevent vehicles going through the railing system.
With the bridge reopening, the railing replacement will move into the third phase of this four-phase project. The northbound lane will be closed to traffic on the Avalon half of the bridge and traffic will be maintained in the southbound lane. No tolls will be collected while there is only one operable lane of traffic.
Due to the narrow width of the existing bridge, the one lane of traffic being maintained on the bridge will only be 10 feet in width. Motorists are advised to drive with care when passing through the construction zone.
The old bridge has been plagued by a string of shutdowns over the past five years for repairs, maintenance work or related road construction, prompting calls by Sea Isle officials for it to be replaced. A consultant has estimated it would cost $175 million. However, the county currently does not have the money to replace it and is searching for state and federal funds.