Demolishing a nearly 5,000-foot-long bridge is no easy job - especially when it's done simultaneously with the construction of a new span.
This is the task facing Route 52 Contractors - the same outfit responsible for the new roadway between Somers Point and Ocean City - which earlier this year was awarded a $130 million contract by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to take down the decaying Beesleys Point Bridge and build a new southbound Garden State Parkway span bridging Somers Point and Upper Township.
Project manager Al Houser has split his crew between the two projects since work began in July. Some are busy tearing down the Beesleys Point Bridge, while others are prepping the site of the new span.
"It's time-consuming," Houser said. "It's a long process."
The 85-year-old Beesleys Point Bridge had been closed to vehicle traffic since 2004 following the failure of a support. Cape May County bought the bridge for $1 in 2008 from the Beesleys Point Bridge Co. with plans to rehabilitate it. But when project estimates ballooned from $20 million to
$32 million, it was decided the bridge would be removed.
So far, Houser's crew has completely removed the bridge deck over Drag Channel. Up next is removal of the deck over the Great Egg Harbor Bay.
Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo, who has been in office since before the bridge was closed, said he's glad to see progress finally being made.
"I think it's kind of exciting that this project is well on its way," Palombo said. "It's not just on the books - it's actually happening."
To take out a section of bridge, Houser's crew must first position a floating barge, known as a debris catch, beneath it to prevent debris from falling into the water. The bridge is then broken into pieces by machines. When the catch is full, it is pushed to shore. The debris is trucked away and recycled.
Those working at the site of the new span have been constructing an access trestle and a coffer dam, which will allow the project to continue once in-water work is suspended Jan. 1 due to state environmental restrictions.
They are also placing hundreds of 30-by-30-foot concrete blocks on the bay floor to make what are known as test piles. Once the piles are placed, an engineer will verify their bearing capacity to ensure they can support the bridge.
The average pile is about 115 feet long and weighs 55 tons, Houser said. The bridge will span 20 piers, each of which will be built into between 18 and 36 piles.
The demolition of the Beesleys Point Bridge should be done close to the end of next year, and the new bridge should be done around January 2016, Houser said. The new span will be about 10 feet from the current one.
The finished southbound span will include three traffic lanes and a shoulder that can be used as an emergency lane, making it an asset in the event of an evacuation. It will also include a walkway for pedestrians and bicyclists, and there are plans to put a fishing pier on Drag Island.
Palombo said not only will the bridge provide vehicle transit across the Great Egg Harbor Bay and Drag Channel, but it also will serve the community recreationally, much like the Route 52 Causeway.
"I think it certainly will be an advantage for the township and Cape May County in general, that this new structure will be there," he said. "It'll be a safe structure, and the fact it adds some recreational opportunities only enhances the whole project."
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