An end may finally be in sight for commuters and pedestrians alike as the Garden State Parkway bridge linking Atlantic and Cape May counties nears completion.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which oversees the parkway expansion project, said the $79.3 million contract to complete the bridge is 93 percent complete.
The contract, which was initiated in 2016, has a scheduled completion date for May of this year, authority spokesman Thomas Feeney said.
The bike path/walkway that runs alongside the bridge was completed about a year and a half ago, according to Upper Township engineer Paul Dietrich. However, the walkway has remained closed due to continued construction.
According to the Turnpike Authority, the construction that remains to be done over the next few months includes some milling, paving and restriping.
Additional work includes removing a construction barrier and a temporary median crossover, finishing electrical work on lighting and an overhead sign, installing some static signs, and landscaping along Harbor Road.
The original bridge over Great Egg and Drag Channel was built in the early 1950s when the parkway first opened. It carried one lane of northbound traffic and one lane of southbound traffic.
In the mid-1970s, a second bridge was built over Great Egg and Drag Channel, a two-lane span built alongside the two-lane span from the 1950s.
When the 1970s bridge was completed traffic was separated — all northbound traffic was shifted onto the new bridge, and all southbound traffic stayed on the original bridge.
The Turnpike Authority awarded a contract in 2013 for the construction of a third bridge across Great Egg and Drag Channel. The $139.8 million project was completed in 2016.
The Turnpike Authority awarded a second contract for that same year to rehabilitate the bridge built in the 1970s and to demolish the original bridge built in the 1950s.
Since last fall, all southbound traffic has been on the new bridge and all northbound traffic has been on the rehabilitated 1970s bridge.
Still, officials from Somers Point and Upper Township, the towns at either end of the bridge, both still plan to coordinate the opening of their own plans to link the pedestrian path and beautify the surrounding areas.
“Its a vital link to have that completed,” Dietrich said. “I know Upper Township is really looking forward to having that gateway into Cape May County.”
On the Beesley’s Point, Upper Township, side, officials want to create a gateway project that would expand an existing parking lot and small bay beach adjacent to entrance to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway.
Dietrich said they’re hoping to have the design phase over in the spring and do construction in the fall to open the new additions in the early part of 2020.
On the Somers Point side, the city applied for a grant in 2017 through the state Department of Transportation to add a pedestrian and bicycle path from the Route 52 causeway to the parkway. Somers Point also had plans with the state Department of Environmental Protection to create a fishing pier on the west side of Drag Island, located just south of the parkway toll plaza.
Ron Meischker, a Somers Point city councilman and the founder of the Patcong Creek Foundation, said there’s a need for infrastructure improvements, which the bridge’s completion helps.
He also praised the new bike and pedestrian path for increasing access to the area’s natural spaces.
“It’s gonna put people into position to be out over the water and be adjacent to the water, and our organization is all about good stewardship,” Meischker said, “But it’s also about good stewardship so people can still enjoy the natural resources that we have in the region.”
Staff Writer Colt Shaw contributed to this report.