JFK Memorial Bridge

Ben Fogletto

Atlantic County will go forward with a plan that keeps one lane open during repairs on the Longport bridge after Labor Day, a plan municipal officials and residents spoke in favor of during a meeting Tuesday night in Longport.

The “alternate lane” plan, which would likely include signalmen at each end of the closed lane allowing traffic to pass in one direction at a time, was one of two options for the proposed $3.1 million project to rehabilitate and redeck the JFK Memorial Bridge between Longport and the Seaview Harbor section of Egg Harbor Township.

The other option would have closed the bridge entirely from September to April 2014, though no further work would have been necessary in fall 2014 and there would have been no overnight work.

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“Our preliminary discussions with both Egg Harbor Township and Longport — not with elected officials but with traffic engineers and administrators — the impression was they wanted it closed for that period of time for safety reasons,” county Executive Dennis Levinson said Wednesday. “But obviously, those problems are not insurmountable.”

Levinson said the county administration was leaning in favor of keeping part of the bridge open “from the beginning.” Now that public opinion appears heavily in favor of the alternate-lane plan, “I’m pretty confident the bridge will remain open,” he said.

Leaving one lane open, Levinson added, would probably add another $50,000 to the estimated $3.1 million cost of the project, due to the extra expense and time involved.

“Another $50,000 is a substantial amount,” Levinson said. “But when you stop and look at the size of the project, that $50,000 is well spent.”

Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica said Tuesday’s freeholder meeting at Longport Borough Hall “was a really good example of community impact and input. The community residents really had a chance to see the impact of what the work was.”

An informal vote at the end of the meeting was overwhelmingly in favor of the alternate-lane plan, including several mayors and police and fire chiefs.

“I’m happy with that,” said Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser. “I think it’s the best possible way to go. ... I think so many people in Downbeach come our way. They’re coming to Somers Point to shop, coming to Somers Point for doctors or Shore Medical Center. I think it’s the best way to go.”

Longport Mayor Nick Russo had a more nuanced take, saying, “This whole endeavor was somewhat complicated.”

“If they closed it totally, the work would have been done quicker, and it would certainly have limited the environmental impact and noise impact,” Russo said. “However, I think it would be devastating to close it totally, for public safety reasons and for the inconvenience of people in the Downbeach area.”

If the bridge were to be closed, emergency vehicles would not have been able to get through. Vehicles would have had to take an 18.5-mile detour through Ventnor, Route 40 and Shore Road or a 12-mile detour on the Downbeach Express toll road from Margate to Northfield.

“For students and people on fixed income, they do anything they can to avoid the Margate bridge toll,” Russo said.

Atlantic County Engineer Joseph D’Abundo said during Tuesday’s meeting that because of the bridge’s vertical and horizontal curves, there is virtually no visibility to see traffic coming through.

“It makes it very difficult for an (automated) signal, so there (have) to be flaggers,” he said. “To lead the public to a signal where they have no visibility to oncoming traffic (would) be a very dangerous thing, which is why the decision was made to not use a signal.”

Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles added that it may be useful to have another person at the middle of the bridge to signal oncoming traffic as well.

Formica said the freeholders will vote later this month on approving the funds required and authorizing the county to execute the contract.

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