Phase one of a two-part project to repair the Townsends Inlet Bridge will begin Feb. 3, Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster said.

The bridge will be closed while construction crews replace the aging steelwork of its movable span, work that Foster said has been much needed.

“The supporting steelwork in the movable span, the stringers and floor beams are in very poor shape,” he said. “We painted the bridge in 2010, and there wasn’t much steel left.”

Townsends Inlet Bridge, which connects Sea Isle City to Avalon, is expected to reopen by April 30, but work will likely continue until Memorial Day weekend, Foster said. The bridge will remain open for marine traffic during repair.

The bridge’s load rating was downgraded from 15 tons to 3 after its 2012 biannual inspection revealed its steel support structure had deteriorated significantly. While this reduction affected few passenger cars, it has forced NJ Transit buses and commercial vehicles to detour back through the mainland to travel between Avalon and Sea Isle.

“It will be better able to service the residents of Sea Isle who need public transportation, in the summertime especially,” Sea Isle Mayor Len Desiderio said. “Many of the restaurants have employees that use public transportation to get to and from work.”

Residents will have to detour through the mainland while construction is ongoing.

The bridge has been subject to repairs and closings over the years due to storm and accident damage, so the residents of both communities are accustomed to detours. It was most recently closed following Hurricane Sandy, which damaged the Avalon side of Ocean Drive.

“We were not happy with it, but we understood it,” Desiderio said. “I’m hoping that everyone just sees what the benefit is going to be once the bridge is repaired."

The county will also use the project as an opportunity to replace the railing on the movable and tollhouse spans, which Foster said do not meet current standards.

Some of the components that power the movable span will be replaced next year as part of the next phase of the project. It was split up because it takes six months or more to fabricate some of the more complicated pieces, Foster said.

The county is paying the bill for the $4.4 million project with $1 million in assistance from the state. The contract was awarded to Mugrose Construction Inc., of West Caldwell.

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