SEA ISLE CITY — The aged Townsends Inlet Bridge, which connects Sea Isle City and Avalon, will close for about eight months in mid-September so approximately 20 percent of its structure can be replaced.
The Ocean Drive bridge has been closed several times recently for repairs, including for three months last year when structural problems were found in piling on the Avalon side.
The county would like to replace the bridge, which was built about 80 years ago, but estimates the cost of a new bridge would range as high as $155 million.
Cape May County freeholders awarded an $8.6 million contract last week to Agate Construction of Clermont, Dennis Township, and the six bids received ranged as high as $14.7 million, said county Engineer Dale Foster.
The contract calls for replacement of the first seven spans on the Avalon side and for the bridge to reopen just before Memorial Day next year, Foster said. The bridge has a total of 27 spans.
“These seven spans give us quite a bit of breathing room now, before we need to replace the bridge,” he said. The design time alone for a new bridge would be three years if the county pays for it or six to seven years if federal dollars fund it, he said.
“There would be a lot more hurdles to jump” if the federal government is involved, Foster said.
Fishermen should be happy with the renovation, as the width of the walkway they use now will increase from 2 feet to 6 feet.
“We are replacing everything — the deck, railings, sidewalks, supporting beams, piers,” Foster said. “We are eliminating seven spans and putting back four. With modern-day construction materials, we can get longer spans at the same depth.”
Three of the new supports will be concrete, he said.
The bridge is owned by the Cape May County Bridge Commission, but the county is handling the renovation project, said commission Executive Director Karen Coughlin.
“We don’t want to build with metal anymore like they did 80 years ago,” she said.
Concrete is more resistant to saltwater corrosion than metal.
“The existing bridge is steel. That’s where the problem is,” Foster said.
The problematic section was first damaged back in 1962 during a nor’easter, he said.
“The inlet bottom of that area dropped drastically, and we lost the embedment to piling,” he said. “We had to drive supplemental steel piles. Now it’s gotten to the point they are really starting to corrode.”