The Cape May County Bridge Commission is in the process of installing E-ZPass on its five bridges in the hopes it will ease the flow of traffic for tourists traveling between islands.
Installing the electronic toll system is just one of several changes the commission hopes to make in the coming years.
In February, the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders authorized $500,000 to be used for the purchase and installation of E-ZPass equipment. The commission had hoped to have the new toll system up and running by June, but the project was delayed.
Karen Coughlin, the executive director of the commission, said the process of updating electrical conduits and installing sensors, electrical equipment and support structures began after Labor Day.
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“We were trying to get everything installed by the end of May, but it didn’t work out, so we stopped the project until after the summer,” she said.
Patrick Rosenello, chairman of the bridge commission, said E-ZPass on the Ocean City-Longport Bridge should be completed within the next 60 days. The whole project should be completed by midspring.
The commission operates the Middle Thorofare Bridge connecting Cape May and Wildwood Crest, the Grassy Sound Bridge linking North Wildwood and Stone Harbor, the Townsends Inlet Bridge between Avalon and Sea Isle City, the Corsons Inlet Bridge between Strathmere and Ocean City, and the Ocean City-Longport Bridge.
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Adding E-ZPass is one of several changes the commission hopes to make. Earlier this year, the commission authorized a study that could lead to the possible replacement of the Townsends Inlet Bridge.
On Thursday, there will be a public meeting at the county administration building to discuss the future of the Townsends Inlet Bridge.
“There is a strong push between the county and the commission to update these bridges,” Rosenello said. “We’re looking at spending many millions of dollars for major upgrades or the replacement of them.”
In April, the Townsends Inlet Bridge was shut down for emergency repairs after a crack was discovered in one of the supporting piers 30 feet below water.
The emergency repairs lasted about two months, and the bridge was reopened to motorists in June.
The bridges were originally built during and right after World War II and were paid in part from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Ocean City-Longport Bridge was built in 1927 and purchased by the bridge commission in 1946 for $720,000.
Officials say the bridges are safe but are showing their age.
Rosenello said the commission spends money every year on maintenance, and they are exploring a combination of federal and state transportation money, as well as bonding from the county, to pay for the new or upgraded bridges.
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“The county and commission are partners in this,” Rosenello said. “There is no feasible way to replace a bridge just with toll money.”
In 2015, toll revenue totaled $2,754,127 and traffic, measured one way because tolls are only collected in one direction, totaled 1,799,708 vehicles, according to the latest financial report on the commission’s website.
Both Rosenello and Coughlin said they do not see any layoffs of toll workers coming in the near future.
“The people on the bridge have two responsibilities: collect tolls and put the bridge up so boats can get through,” Rosenello said. “Even when we have E-ZPass, there will still need to be someone there to put the bridge up.”