WOODBRIDGE — Plans to tear down the Beesleys Point Bridge and replace the southbound span of the Garden State Parkway bridge connecting Atlantic and Cape May counties could be delayed due to a squabble over environmental issues, NJTA officials said Tuesday.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is prepared to award a contract for the $210 million project, expected to last three years, at its February meeting, but one holdup remains: permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
As a condition of building the new bridge, the authority is required to compensate for the area lost in construction. To that end, the Turnpike Authority agreed to shoulder the bulk of the demolition costs for the Cape May County-owned Beesleys Point Bridge with the thought that removing the roadway and restoring the area would fulfill a substantial portion of its obligation.
However, the state DEP now says that’s not the case, NJTA chief engineer Richard Raczynski said.
“(DEP) decided that since the roadway hasn’t been used in five years, we shouldn’t get credit for it. They decided that. It’s not written in the rules. So we have a meeting with them on Thursday, and it’s affecting our permitting at this time,” Raczynski said.
Raczynski made the comments in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City following the authority's board meeting in Middlesex County Tuesday.
Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state DEP, confirmed that the authority is seeking wetlands and open water mitigation credits for the demolition of the Beesleys Point bridge but released few specifics saying the deal was still in discussion. Asked about any issues related to the length of time since the roadway was used, Hajna said he wasn’t aware of that level of detail in discussions.
“We’ll work out the credit issues. If what they’re proposing is somehow not sufficient, we’ll find something that is,” Hajna said. “It’s not something that could hold up the project.”
That sentiment, however, was not shared by the Turnpike Authority, which is involved in the Beesleys Point Bridge demolition specifically for the mitigation benefits. The bridge, which dates to 1928, has been shut down since 2004 due to structural issues. Cape May County purchased the roadway connecting Upper Township and Somers Point for $1 from the Beesleys Point Bridge Co. in 2008 with intentions of restoring it.
But after restoration costs soared from $20 million to $32 million, those plans were scrapped. The Turnpike Authority’s plan to include the bridge’s demolition in its project saved Cape May County from paying the costs to do so.
“It’s a big credit for us. If they won’t give us the credit, then we have to find another site to do additional mitigation,” Raczynski said. “That might consume some time for us.”
Raczynski said he hadn’t yet looked into alternative mitigation land, but similar problems in mitigation have held up authority projects in the past. The removal of the traffic lights on the parkway in Cape May County was delayed for months due in part to difficulty in securing mitigation space.
When an area is destroyed in a construction project, the builder is required to mitigate within the same general area. That can pose problems if there are few mitigation opportunities.
Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster said the county wasn’t aware of any mitigation dispute and wouldn’t be involved in Thursday’s meeting.
“We don’t have any interest in the mitigation. That’s the Turnpike Authority. Their whole thought process behind getting involved was because of the mitigation,” Foster said.
Previously released estimates have placed demolition costs at $9 million. Of that, the county was expected to handle demolition of the drawbridge, about 3 percent of the 4,829-foot-long bridge. The county expects a federal reimbursement for the work, which would cost about $1 million, and the Turnpike Authority would finance the remainder.
Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said the authority won’t release cost estimates until the project goes out to bid. The county originally expected to demolish its portion last fall, but that didn’t happen following holdups due to Hurricane Sandy, the county said. NJTA now plans to handle the demolition in one contract.
Until the mitigation issue is settled and the authority obtains the environmental permits, work can’t begin to construct the new southbound parkway bridge. The current structure dates to 1955 and is cracking and rusting.
The new bridge will include a walkway for pedestrians and bicyclists, and will include three lanes and a shoulder. The existing bridge has two lanes and no shoulder. The project also includes the refurbishment of the northbound section of the bridge constructed in 1973.
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