UPPER TOWNSHIP — At least seven bridges in Cape May County will undergo repairs, demolition or new construction next year, underscoring the importance these spans have in daily life here.
The Corsons Inlet Bridge reopened late Monday after workers set up concrete barriers and traffic lights to regulate one-way travel on the span through Memorial Day. Workers will spend the winter replacing the bridge’s dilapidated railings, damaged Feb. 1 when a sport utility vehicle crashed through them and plunged into the bay, with sturdier ones in a $2.3 million project.
Two Sea Isle City teenagers were injured in the crash.
Residents of Cape May County’s four barrier islands normally come and go freely from the beach to the mainland via a network of causeways and bridges, but Hurricane Irene was a reminder to Charlie and Janet Nesbitt, of Bloomsburg, Pa., that they spend half the year on a vulnerable barrier island.
“It does reinforce it,” Charlie Nesbitt said. “You take it for granted sometimes.” The couple took down their sunroom Tuesday at the seasonal Ocean Beach Trailer Resort in the Strathmere section of Upper Township.
The biggest of all the construction projects in Cape May County is the new $400 million Route 52 causeway, which is slated for completion by Memorial Day 2012.
Meanwhile, the $3.3 million widening work is continuing on the Avalon Canal Bridge at the entrance to Avalon on 30th Street.
And four of the Ocean Drive bridges owned by the Cape May County Bridge Commission will undergo work ranging from new boat fenders to structural repairs. The work includes:
n $2.3 million this fall through spring to replace railings on both sides of the Corsons Inlet Bridge
n $2.8 million in the spring to repair the bascule bridge at Townsends Inlet
n $250,000 in the spring to repair the substructure to the Grassy Sound and Corsons Inlet spans
n $500,000 to repair boat fenders this fall on the Middle Thorofare Bridge in Lower Township
Cape May County also plans to demolish part of the Beesleys Point Bridge this fall.
“The good news is the work is being done when there are such budget constraints and funding is not often readily available,” Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo said.
He and other township officials had lobbied to save the Beesleys Point Bridge, but plans to repair it were scrapped last year when cost estimates increased by more than 60 percent.
The county bonded $1.2 million to demolish the drawbridge portion of the bridge this year.
Palombo said he wants the county to spare a section of the bridge as a new pedestrian attraction with benches, lights and maybe even concessions.
“People like to stroll out there and take advantage of the bay view,” he said. “The area would be nice for recreation if we can make it a fishing pier.”
Palombo said this span might need some modest work to ensure the safety of pedestrians. But since it would not have to bear the weight or wear of vehicles, it should be relatively inexpensive, he said.
A fishing pier could be the keystone of the point’s other attractions, which include a boat ramp, public beach, bayfront restaurant, and private Jet Ski rental, the mayor said.
“I was hoping the county would take the initiative through open-space money,” he said. “I think it would be a real sad thing if they decided to take the bridge down without utilizing it.”
County Administrator Stephen O’Connor said he would talk to Upper Township about the idea but was doubtful that repairing the bridge for pedestrian use would feasible.
“I don’t think it’s likely. We’re lobbying for that bridge to be demolished as part of the new Garden State Parkway bridge construction,” he said. “It would cost too much to make it safe for pedestrians.”
Meanwhile, residents of Strathmere are adjusting to the alternating one-way traffic on the Corsons Inlet Bridge. Workers installed new lights to regulate traffic during the six-month construction project.
“It’s a lot of grief, but it’s a job that needs to be done,” said Lynda Brown, owner of the Deauville Inn, which overlooks the bridge.
Keeping the Corsons Inlet Bridge open this fall is especially important, she said. The restaurant normally closes on slow weeknights, but this year it is expecting large crowds of fans for Major League Baseball's playoffs.
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