A demolition crew is expected to start taking apart the Beesleys Point Bridge next week, nine years after it closed and 85 years after it was built.
Workers have been preparing the site for weeks, but the first pieces of the causeway and bridge will start to be torn apart with heavy machinery in the next few days. By sometime early next year, the entire structure should be gone.
The deconstruction of the decrepit and unused former stretch of Route 9 takes up only about $3 million of the $130 million contract the New Jersey Turnpike Association awarded in March. That project also includes the construction of an entirely new southbound span for the Garden State Parkway.
While some people have argued to keep the bridge for various reasons, removing it has multiple benefits.
Once it is gone, it will be easier for the contractor, Route 52 Constructors, to station equipment in the nearby water to work on the new parkway bridge, Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said.
Returning the roadway on Drag Island to wetlands also will benefit the surrounding environment and partially satisfies the state Department of Environmental Protection's permitting requirements.
Perhaps most significantly, the low bridge and its narrow bascule span will no longer be an impediment to large boats, some of which now barely squeeze through. The width of the drawbridge opening is currently 60 feet. Without it, the 148 feet between the fenders under the parkway bridges will be the only width restriction through that area.
"This will definitely make it easier on those guys, because some of them have to hold their breath," said Bette Jean Yank, marketing manager for Yank Marine, a commercial boat builder and repair company on the Tuckahoe River.
Yank said her company has lost many contracts in the past because both the Beesleys Point and the parkway bridges have restricted the size of vessels that can get to her business. Removing the Beesleys Point Bridge will not change the height limit, but it will allow for wider boats.
"We're happy to see it go," said Yank, "along with the Route 52 drawbridge."
As the name indicates, Route 52 Constructors is the same company that built the second phase of the new Route 52 bridge and causeway between Somers Point and Ocean City. In that case, it handled a $258 million contract with more than $7 million in change orders so far.
The total cost of the project to demolish the Beesleys Point Bridge, demolish the southbound parkway bridge and build a new southbound span is about $230 million with permitting, design and tree-clearing contracts.
That work will not be complete until at least 2016. A contract to repair and improve the northbound side of the parkway bridge over Great Egg Harbor Bay has not yet been awarded, but Feeney said the current southbound side of the parkway bridge will not be knocked down until the northbound side is fixed.
Once the contract is awarded to repair the northbound side, that work is expected to take 18 months, at which point northbound traffic will be temporarily transferred to the old southbound span. Only when all that is complete will the existing southbound bridge be demolished, Feeney said.
There are no expected traffic interruptions from either part of the project. And boat travel should be able to continue as well, even if vessels must avoid certain areas where work is happening.
"There's no expectation that it's ever going to prevent boat traffic from passing underneath the bridge," Feeney said.
To minimize the impact, work will not start on the southern part of the Beesleys Point Bridge until after September, even if the northern half of the span is finished before that. So it will not disturb boating and bathing activity on the beach and docks on the Upper Township side of the bridge.
At some point later, the state also plans to build a fishing pier in the area of Drag Island, but there is currently no timeline for that to start.
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