In two months, Cape May County-hired engineers will determine whether the Beesleys Point Bridge can be reopened for $20 million in repairs, county Administrator Stephen O'Connor said.
"By February, we'll know if the project is feasible and if the county's in a position to move forward with it," he said.
The study also will indicate ways to make a refurbished bridge last longer, and how much that will cost.
A year ago this month, county freeholders bought the bridge for $1 through a deal with the state Department of Transportation, or DOT, and the privately owned Beesleys Point Bridge Co.
The toll bridge, which connects Upper Township in Cape May County with Somers Point in Atlantic County along Route 9, has been closed since 2004 after an old concrete pier threatened to tumble into a steel support.
An earlier study by the DOT indicated repairs to the bridge could cost $20 million.
O'Connor, who also is the executive director of the county Bridge Commission, said evaluations of the bridge will include the fenders, deck and superstructure, as well as the mechanical and electrical operations of the drawbridge.
On Oct. 27, freeholders approved a $295,000 contract with Greenman-Pedersen, of Lebanon, Hunterdon County, to study the span.
Upper Township Mayor Richard Palumbo has advocated for reopening the Beesleys Point Bridge, saying it can serve as an evacuation route and provide a way for emergency responders to enter the township and Cape May County.
"We've been fortunate we haven't had a hurricane or a strong tropical storm in those five years during the summer season," he said. "Just because it didn't happen doesn't mean it's not going to happen."
For years, the bridge remained in limbo, until December 2008, when the Beesleys Point Bridge Co. agreed to repay a $900,000 state loan it received in 1997 under the condition the bridge remain open for 20 years.
Funding for bridge repairs and operations are outlined under a complex deal with the state that dedicates future toll revenue to paying off debt.
O'Connor has said the formula would allow the county to break even on the bridge if the repairs cost $20 million or less.
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