CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - The Cape May County Bridge Commission awarded a $2.3 million contract Wednesday to replace corroded railings on the Corsons Inlet Bridge.

The low bidder was Thomas Barry Marine Construction of South Dennis, Dennis Township, Bridge Commission spokesman Stephen O'Connor said. The commission rejected bids in November after the low offer came in at $3.4 million or nearly $1.5 million more than the commission budgeted for the work.

The rusty and corroded railings - original to the 1948 span - became the subject of public scrutiny earlier this year after a sport utility vehicle hopped the tall bridge curb, plowed into the drawbridge gate and motor mechanism and crashed through the railing, plummeting 30 feet into the bay. Driver Nicole Crudele, 18, and her twin brother, Michael, survived the Feb. 1 crash and swam to safety after their truck sank to the bottom of the bay.

Nicole Crudele was cited for careless driving.

The crash was the first of its kind on any of the five Ocean Drive bridges, O'Connor said.

"They were more of a handrail than a guardrail," he said.

The new railings will consist of tubular steel measuring 42 inches high rather than the present railing's 36 inches to accommodate today's taller vehicles. The rails will resemble those on the Great Channel Bridge between Stone Harbor and North Wildwood.

The work is expected to be complete by Memorial Day 2012, with partial lane closings this fall.

The project attracted 11 bidders, compared to just six in November, O'Connor said.

Public construction projects are becoming scarcer now that many funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act have been awarded, O'Connor said.

"They're pretty well dried up," he said. "There is no new stimulus money out there. You have more contractors with less work."

Even the high bid on the project of $3.1 million was lower than the lowest of last year's bids.

The commission benefited from $4.5 million in stimulus money to repaint the Grassy Sound and Townsends Inlet bridges.

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