Half the security fencing along the Garden State Parkway’s Great Egg Harbor Bridge was taken down Monday, less than a year after it was installed.
New Jersey Turnpike Authority officials had said the fence would protect the bridge from terrorists, yet months of criticism followed the completion of the $250,000 project. The NJTA maintains the parkway.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said the ultimate issue was not the cost, but whether the fence could ever be effective.
“The issue isn’t over whether it’s a vulnerable asset or not,” he said of the spans the fence was supposed to protect, “it’s whether you’re really protecting it with this fence, and the answer is you were not. That’s the real rub here.”
Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, said, “It was something that was an apparent waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Clark also worried about its impression on tourists. Located on the border of Atlantic and Cape May counties, the 8-foot-high barbed-wire fence is visible to motorists on the Garden State Parkway.
To some, the fence’s removal supports claims it was unneeded all along.
“My question is: Was the original issue that strong that now they’re taking it down in light of public opinion?” said Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser. “If it was that important, and that vital to public security, then shouldn’t it have been left there?”
Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said he would not know how much the removal of the fence would cost until it was finished.
Crews took down, rolled up and trucked away about half of the fence Monday, storing it in a maintenance yard to be reused as needed elsewhere.
How much of the $250,000 can be recovered by reusing the materials — and how much is lost to the labor costs — is unclear. Contracts related to the project and obtained by The Press of Atlantic City do not itemize those costs.
About 500 feet, or 10 percent, of the half-mile fence will remain.
The fence became controversial after The Press of Atlantic City reported it was meant to protect the bridge from terrorists as recommended by a $412,000 security-assessment study.
State officials have declined numerous times to discuss what specific threat the fence was supposed to address, citing concerns that revealing too much information could jeopardize national security.
Nine other parkway bridges were mentioned in the study; they include the Driscoll Bridge over the Raritan River, the Passaic River Bridge and the bridge that carries the southbound parkway onto Route 80 eastbound, all in northern New Jersey, Feeney said.
Analysis by The Press found that the contractor, Joseph Sanzari Inc., had been a frequent contributor to both political parties’ campaigns in New Jersey. The firm bid just under $7 million for the total project, which also included fencing on the New Jersey Turnpike.
The fact that the bridge was still accessible by boat, that a gate in the fence was left open for weeks and that tolls increased shortly after the project’s completion also fueled the public’s irration.
“For a host of reasons, this one really kind of hit the fan,” Van Drew said.
The Turnpike Authority stated in the past that it planned to install similar fencing along the parkway bridges that cross the Mullica and Bass rivers between Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean counties once those bridges were expanded for an ongoing highway-widening project.
On Monday, Feeney said future bridge security measures were under review.
“I think they better take a good, hard look at any of those plans,” Van Drew said.
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