The dilapidated Beesleys Point Bridge across Great Egg Harbor Bay was shut down in June 2004 by its private owners, who said they could not afford to make needed repairs.
That means the bridge, which provides the most direct route from Marmora and other parts of Upper Township to Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, has been closed for almost six years. And if there has been a significant, traffic-related medical catastrophe because the bridge has been closed, we haven't heard about it.
That was the problem that proponents of keeping the bridge opened worried about - that forcing ambulances to take the adjacent Garden State Parkway bridge, which runs parallel to the Beesleys Point Bridge, could result in medical disasters because of traffic delays on the parkway, which often backs up on summer weekends.
But it's been six years. There has been no major problem. It's time to give up the idea - the expensive idea - of fixing the structural problems with the 82-year-old bridge and reopening the structure. It's not going to happen. It should not happen.
Cape May County owns the bridge now. The county bought the span for $1 with the hope of using state transportation funds and toll revenue to fund an estimated $20 million worth of repairs to the bridge. But a new estimate of needed repairs put the cost at $32 million.
Enough already. Rebuilding the bridge was a bad idea at
$20 million. It's a worse idea at $32 million. Reopening the span is simply too expensive - and unnecessary.
Forcing motorists to use the parkway bridge a few hundred feet to the east of the Beesleys Point Bridge may be inconvenient for some, but it has not caused any major problems. The county should drop its plans and do what we suggested in 2007 - cut the center section out of the bridge to allow boat traffic to pass and make two fishing piers out of what remains. Certainly the structure can be made safe for pedestrians for far less money than what's needed to make it structurally sound for vehicular traffic.
The other main argument for reopening the bridge - that it is an important evacuation route out of Cape May County in the event of a major storm - doesn't stand up to scrutiny either. In addition to the parkway, Upper Township residents have several routes that will allow them to evacuate inland, which is the direction they would want to go in a storm, not parallel to the coast over the low Beesleys Point Bridge.
Stephen O'Connor, the executive director of the Cape May County Bridge Commission, concedes that a fishing pier is now under consideration. Good. The site could become one of the premier recreational facilities in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
And both the state and the county have unmet transportation needs that are far more important than throwing $32 million at the Beesleys Point Bridge.