File photo of the Route 52 causeway that links Somers Point and Ocean City. Monday, January, 10, 2011 ( Press of Atlantic City / Danny Drake)

OCEAN CITY - The state will open at least three lanes of traffic on Route 52 by Memorial Day and have all four lanes open to the resort by June 24 under the $400 million project's new timeline.

In a letter sent Friday to Ocean City, New Jersey Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner Robert A. DeSando said the agency reassessed the progress of construction on the twin spans linking Ocean City and Somers Point and determined Route 52 Constructors will not have to close the old bridge to traffic this winter as some business owners had feared.

The state said the new southbound bridge leading into Ocean City will be completed by mid-March under the new schedule. When that is finished, the state will move traffic to that span so workers can demolish the drawbridge that has frustrated summer motorists for decades.

"The NJDOT's commitment to provide full travel capacity in the peak direction every weekend by Memorial Day remains in place," DeSando said.

Until normal traffic resumes in June, the state will adjust traffic flow on weekends. For example, the causeway will have two lanes of travel in the mornings, when most people are coming onto the island.

"The department has experience implementing such lane shifts in high-traffic-volume situations and will manage these shifts each weekend," DeSando said.

To maintain the construction schedule, the contractor will bring on additional workers or shifts, the state said.

The state had proposed closing the old bridge to traffic for at least two months to speed construction on the span. Motorists on the old bridge have to navigate the construction all around them. This creates delays both for drivers and the contractors.

Police had warned that lane closings to Ocean City's busiest entrance this summer could create long traffic jams stretching to the Garden State Parkway and alternate routes in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

Ocean City Business Administrator Michael Dattilo said the new timeline suggests the construction is not as far behind schedule as believed.

"They clearly paint a more optimistic picture than what they had," he said.

The city issued a waiver to the contractors in September allowing them to do loud work such as pile-driving until 9 p.m. and other work until midnight. Since then, the contractor has not asked the city to relax any other rules, Dattilo said.

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