SOMERS POINT - What started off as a gap in the Beesleys Point Bridge has become a 3-foot chasm in recent months, and after being closed to motor vehicle traffic for six years, the bridge between Somers Point and Upper Township has become all but impassible.
On Wednesday afternoon, some fishermen tried the water while a lone bicyclist rode out, and then came back.
Sid Barrish, 68, said he was able to ride over last fall but since returning from Florida this spring has found the road blocked. Barrish, of Egg Harbor Township, said a small walkway previously allowed some people to cross the gap but that it was gone Wednesday.
"I don't think anyone's going over," he said.
The bridge is a nice ride, he said, because of the cool bay breeze. Additionally, it is the only way to get between Somers Point and Upper Township without riding to Ocean City or Mays Landing or by taking the Garden State Parkway. He said he thought the bridge was safe for walking, fishing and biking, "except for that gap over there."
Signs diverted all southbound Route 9 traffic onto the Garden State Parkway.
Beyond there, a "Road Closed" sign marked the border of Atlantic County's responsibility. A concrete barrier physically prevented vehicles from driving onto the bridge.
A mound of garbage on one side of the barricade smelled strongly in the 95-degree weather. About a half-mile farther, the road, littered with shattered clamshells, abruptly stopped at a metal barricade. Just beyond, rushing water could be seen below.
Elsewhere on the bridge, smaller cracks extend the entire width of the roadway. Some are held in check by rusting metal plates.
The bridge is overseen by the Cape May County Bridge Commission, following a $1 purchase by the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The board bought it from the private Beesleys Point Bridge Co. after the company agreed to repay $900,000 in state funds received in 1997 to keep it open until 2017. The company closed it after an old steel pier threatened to collapse into a steel support.
The commission installed railings and signs to discourage people from crossing the bridge, commission Executive Director Stephen O'Connor said.
"In the current state of affairs, it should not be used," said O'Connor, who also serves as county administrator.
He said the bridge tender reported very few bicyclists now use the span.
The state Department of Transportation is reviewing an engineering study of the bridge, O'Connor said. He expected the state would respond in two or three weeks. That report could lead officials to invest another $32 million in the bridge, or instead spend money on expected improvements to the nearby Garden State Parkway bridge over the Great Egg Harbor Bay and turn the Beesleys Point bridge into fishing piers.
O'Connor said the commission was hoping for a recreation and fishing pier, with the central bridge portion removed.
Sam Picketts, 31, said he remembered driving over the bridge when he lived in Upper Township and first got his driver's license.
Fishing on a day off Wednesday, the Somers Point resident said he thought it was safe to fish but that its continued closing makes it difficult to see family who live in Cape May County.
"Clearly it is the best alternative for people who don't own a boat," he said.
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