Venice Park resident Alma Johnson has tried to take in stride the surprise closing of an Atlantic City neighborhood bridge she uses every day.

The Ohio Avenue span over the Penrose Canal was closed June 6 due to safety concerns, raising questions about the safety of other bridges in the region.

“I never knew the bridge wasn’t in good repair,” Johnson said.

Johnson, 70, is president of the Venice Park Civic Association and said she usually travels across the bridge at least three times per day. She said it is inconvenient to detour on to the White Horse Pike every time she leaves her neighborhood.

“Over there it’s a little messy because all of that Borgata traffic is coming in, and they’re driving crazy,” she said.

The bridge will likely remain closed for repairs for several months, staff in the city engineer’s office said Wednesday, forcing about 1,300 drivers every day to find an alternate route.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration listed the 1969 span as one of New Jersey’s nearly 700 “structurally deficient” bridges.  That means slightly more than 10 percent of the state’s total bridges may have one or more significant problems in need of repair.

In addition, a quarter of the state’s 6,486 bridges are considered “functionally obsolete,” meaning the design and layout is not up to current standards. Nationally, about 11 percent of the country’s 607,000 bridges are considered structurally deficient, while 14 percent are considered functionally obsolete.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave New Jersey’s bridges a D grade in the report last year, saying structures needed a cumulative $7.7 billion over the next 10  years to slow the number of bridges deemed structurally deficient.

Richard F. Keevey, the report’s author, wrote that he expected constraints on federal spending, requiring New Jersey and other states to lean on local governments to pay the bill.

The National Bridge Inventory notes the bridges’ attributes and evaluates the condition of a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure. The sufficiency of every bridge is ranked on a 100-point scale.

While bridges across New Jersey are 53 years old on average, they have a median sufficiency rating of 83, with some notable exceptions.

The database gave ratings of just 8 and 10 to the two bridges that made up the Beeselys Point Bridge crossing over Great Egg Harbor. Major structural problems closed the former private toll road in 2004, and it is scheduled to be demolished by the end of the year.

There are eight other bridges rated less than 20 in the region. The lowest rated is Upper Township’s Corsons Inlet Bridge, which has a structural sufficiency rating of 11. Evaluators rated both the superstructure and substructure as poor, while the deck was considered fair.

On an average day, 2,495 people use the 1948 bridge. Evaluators have raised concerns about scouring, the erosion around the structure, noting “bridge foundations determined to be unstable for assessed or calculated scour conditions.”

However, evaluators did not find evidence of extensive scouring and wrote the overall condition met the tolerable limits to be left in place.

The Cape May County Bridge Commission owns the bridge, and Linda Gilles, its interim executive director, said she was unaware of the potential for scouring damage. She said the commission is in the early stages of authorizing substructure repairs to it and two other bridges, but it was too early to know the schedule.

The Cape May County Bridge Commission spent $3.4 million between 2006 and 2008 enabling it to lift weight restrictions. The bridge made news in February 2011, when two teens in an SUV tore though rusted bridge railings and plunged into the inlet water, escaping without injury. The railings were replaced last year.

Other low-rated bridges include a pair of crossings on Somers Point-Mays Landing Road in Egg Harbor Township. Those bridges, over the Patcong and English creeks, were rated 16 and 17, respectively.

Another bridge on that road, across Lakes Creek, was rated at 57. However, it too was considered structurally deficient.

The English Creek bridge has been closed since Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and is scheduled to be replaced by Atlantic County this summer.

The database shows the least sufficient major bridges in this region are the series of spans that link the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township with Long Beach Island.

Even before Hurricane Sandy, federal evaluators determined these four bridges, built in the late 1950s, had sufficiency ratings between 32 and 48. This is important, as they carry between 11,000 and 47,000 vehicles per day, depending on the season.

The bridges are scheduled to be replaced over the next several years as part of the $350 million Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges project, according to the state Department of Transportation. The project will repair and update the bridges as well as add new lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.

In Atlantic City, meanwhile, people are still regarding the Ohio Avenue bridge with suspicion.

Its most recent evaluation determined the roadway surface on the 80-foot bridge was in good condition and the superstructure was rated satisfactory, but the substructure was considered to be in poor condition.

Federal evaluators last year determined the bridge’s sufficiency rating was 40 of 100, and its overall condition was tolerable within federal guidelines to be left in place.

However, older evaluations show the bridge had declined in recent years. A 2010 survey noted the substructure was in fair condition and gave the span a sufficiency rating of 55. The substructure was satisfactory in 2000, with a 65 rating, while in 1992, all aspects of the bridge were rated good, and it had an 88 rating.

On Wednesday night city Engineer William England told City Council the repairs necessary for reopening the Venice Park bridge likely will be done in phases. He said he has been in contact with the state Department of Transportation, including as late as 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“As of this moment, I'm in process of filling out applications for the work and for emergency funding,” he said. “I should have a little more information next week as far as scheduling.”

Anthony Cox, a Venice Park resident, said he trusts the region’s public officials to detect structural problems before they became critical. “It’s a bit of an inconvenience,” the 48-year-old said of the detour, but “it’s a necessary inconvenience.”

But for Johnson, the closed bridge was indicative of wider problems in the resort.

“They keep saying ‘Do AC,’” Johnson said. “My motto is ‘Fix AC, then Do AC.’ That’s how I feel.”

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046

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