A bridge in Atlantic City's Venice Park neighborhood that has been shut down for more than two months will be open in time for the start of school if city officials get their way.
The Ohio Avenue bridge over the Penrose Canal was closed June 6 after officials found it was unstable and unsafe for travel. The 80-foot bridge built in 1969 has a rating of 40 out of 100 on the National Bridge Inventory.
City Council has approved emergency repairs that are not expected to exceed $550,000. Bids for the work are due today.
During an emergency City Council meeting Thursday, Mayor Lorenzo Langford called getting the bridge open his top priority, saying he plans to see it open for the start of the school year. That leaves just about two weeks, as the Atlantic City School District begins classes on Sept. 9.
City Engineer William England said officials should know more about what that will entail after seeing the bids today. There will likely be a premium paid to have the work done quickly, England said. Officials also floated the possibilities of opening the bridge to foot traffic or cars only with police enforcement.
"We can change the design and do whatever we need to do to make that happen," England said. "I am pushing very hard."
While officials are working toward the repairs, confusion remains over who is responsible for the bridge. Langford said that in many cases, counties or the state own bridges rather than municipalities. The City Solicitor's Office has pulled records on the bridge in the belief that the city might not be responsible for the structure, but to date, the city is unable to prove that case, Langford said.
"I don't know of a situation where municipalities own bridges. My first inclination was that it had to be either a county or a state bridge," Langford said. "We're still trying to do what we can to find out how that bridge got to be ours. ... We can't prove that it's not ours."
Sixth Ward Councilman Tim Mancuso suggested that the city approach Atlantic County for help with the project.
"Maybe this is a good time to ask our loud-mouth, finger-pointing county executive, Denny Levinson, for some assistance with the bridge," Mancuso said.
The relationship be-tween some members of the city and county governments has become somewhat tense. During the public comment section of the meeting, Langford addressed council with a letter outlining criticisms of recent media coverage, including the city's codes enforcement.
He took issue with Levinson's comments about the importance of code enforcement within the city, calling Levinson Gov. Chris Christie's local mouthpiece.
Contacted after the meeting, Levinson said it was "preposterous" to think the county would help with the bridge repairs, saying the county owns 175 bridges and the Ohio Avenue bridge is not among them.
"The city is responsible for basic, fundamental, municipal responsibilities. If the county started putting money into Atlantic City, I have 22 other municipalities that would ask for the same," Levinson said. "The criticism of the city is not meant to be negative and put the city down. It's to make the city a first-class city."
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