CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Reviled by motorists and local politicians alike, a controversial anti-terrorism fence near the Garden State Parkway bridge crossing the Great Egg Harbor Bay will be removed in 2013, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew said Tuesday.
Drawing cheers from a crowd gathered for the annual Cape May County transportation conference, Van Drew’s remarks about the $250,000 fence was the highlight of the day, upstaging millions of dollars in other road and bridge projects.
The chain-link fencing, topped with barbed wire, was installed last year by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to protect the Great Egg Harbor Bridge from terrorists. It immediately drew the ire of the public and the tourism industry as an alleged waste of money and an eyesore.
“The good news is the fence is going to come down. I’m glad they listened,” said Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.
Van Drew, speaking before an audience of more than 100 people here in the Crest Haven Administration Complex, cautioned that the fence won’t be removed until 2013 when a project begins to replace the southbound span of the Great Egg Harbor Bridge.
“It’s not perfect news,” he said.
Some would like to see the fence removed immediately. Cape May County freeholders passed a resolution in January asking the authority to remove it because it sends a bad message to incoming tourists.
Van Drew said he lobbied the authority, the Department of Transportation and representatives of Gov. Chris Christie to get it removed. He argued the barrier mars scenic views looking out over the bay and the salt marshes.
“It’s one of the most beautiful vistas in the state,” Van Drew said.
Removal would be done next year when the authority begins a project to replace the southbound lane of the Great Egg Harbor Bridge, which also crosses the Drag Island channel, constructed in 1955. The northbound span, which was built in 1973, will be refurbished but not replaced.
“When they demolish the bridge, they will remove the fencing on both sides and they won’t replace it. They will construct the new bridge in such a way that fencing is not necessary,” Van Drew said.
Thomas Feeney, a spokesman for the authority, said the final design for the project is scheduled to be completed in 2013.
“During that process, we expect to identify a different way to secure the existing span. Once that work is done, the fence can be removed,” Feeney said.
The need for the fence was defended by Feeney, who said a security assessment identified it as the most vulnerable major bridge on the Garden State Parkway or New Jersey Turnpike. Fences were installed on 10 authority bridges as part of a $7 million project.
Feeney said it is not the most likely target, but it is the most vulnerable. He said the authority understands people don’t like the appearance of the fence, but he said it was the solution to protect a span critically important to public safety and the regional economy
“The people who are calling for us to just take down the fence simply don’t understand the vulnerabilities. That has put us in a difficult position. We’re not going to announce to the world the features that make the bridge vulnerable, so we really can’t defend our decisionmaking in public,” Feeney said.
The project also will include demolishing the decrepit 84-year-old Beesleys Point Bridge that also spans Great Egg Harbor Bay. The bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since 2004 due to structural damage.
In related news, the authority at a meeting on Tuesday agreed to hire the Hoboken firm Hardesty & Hanover, LLP to do final designs for the project, environmental permitting and to prepare contract documents at a price not to exceed $8,780,000. The work will include removal and replacement of the Great Egg Harbor Bridge and removal of the Beesleys Point Bridge.
The conference included discussion about another fence covering 10 miles on the Atlantic City Expressway that hasn’t gone up yet but is in the planning stages. The fence is not to fight terrorism but to protect wildlife.
“If anybody objects to this fence we’d be happy to take it down. Call the DEP and release us from this contract,” said Deputy Executive Director Samuel Donelson of the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
The fence is designed to funnel animals from the DEP’s Makepeace Lake Wildlife Management Area in Hammonton to culverts that cross under the expressway. An artist’s rendering of the fence showed a raccoon going under the highway.
“We’re trying to figure a way to strap an E-ZPass on the back of that raccoon,” Donelson said.
Van Drew warned there may be some traffic issues during the various projects he talked about, which also included eliminating the three traffic signals on the Garden State Parkway in Middle Township as well as doing interchange improvements at Exit 20 and Exit 0 of the parkway.
“Over the next few years we’ll have a lot of activity, which means there’s going to be a lot of headaches,” he said.
Contact Richard Degener: