By John Burton
RUMSON — State, county and local officials gathered at Borough Hall on Wednesday for the first of what is expected to be a series of meetings on the repair or replacement of the Rumson-Sea Bright bridge.
County bridge S-32 extends from Rumson Road on this side of the Shrewsbury River to state Highway 36/Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright. The current structure is about 50 years old, said Martine Culbertson, a community involvement facilitator and consultant, who presided over the meeting.
There had been discussions about five or six years about rehabilitating the bridge, but “That project had to be terminated,” said Jon Moran, Monmouth County bridge engineer, but he did not elaborate on the reason why.
“It either needs to be rehabilitated or replaced,” Moran said on Wednesday.
“The purpose of this meeting is to get input from the stakeholders,” he continued. “What you’d like to see.”
“With a 50-year-old bridge we’re starting to see deterioration,” Moran said, noting it would need roughly $10 million worth of work to allow the existing bridge to continue operating.
The fact-finding portion of the project, which is federally funded, is expected to take about 18 months, which Culbertson said was an ‘ambitious timeframe’ in which to evaluate public input and make recommendations as to how the project should proceed.
But, added Bruce Riegel, the project manager for Hardesty and Hanover, LLC, “This bridge is in serious condition.”
To completely build a new bridge could take as much as three years, Riegel said. Another option would be to conduct a maintenance overhaul, which would take approximately 18 months.
The Oceanic Bridge, county bridge S-31, connecting Rumson and Middletown, is currently undergoing extensive repairs designed to extend its life for another ten years, at which point the Oceanic bridge would be replaced.
County officials would like to wait until that project has been accomplished before moving forward with this, Moran said.
Those present at the meeting included local elected officials, administrators and law enforcement personnel.
Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl and Sea Bright Borough Councilman C. Read Murphy agreed that one issue to be addressed as the project moves forward is traffic flow.
Vehicles traveling in to Sea Bright are currenty prohibited from making a right on red at Highway 36 South.
The officials believe that slows traffic down unnecessarily and should be changed, if not during the heavily traveled summer months, then at least during the off-season.
Another point, raised by Murphy concerned to bridge’s opening for boat traffic. He said the bridge opens on the half-hour on summer weekends and on request during the week; that can snarl traffic for miles, he said.
“One thing,” Culbertson countered. “Boats don’t have breaks,” and the U.S. Coast Guard dictates the current schedule.
Other topics concerned the impact on pedestrian safety and on mass transit in the area.
Stephen Cutler, a Rumson resident and owner of Channel Club beach club, Monmouth Beach, wanted to know “How can anyone come to the conclusion that closing this bridge for 18 months makes any economic sense?”
“There is no easy answer here or we wouldn’t be sitting here,” Culbertson said. “But there is a reality.”
The current bridge is the fourth one to connect Sea Bright and Rumson across the Shrewsbury River. “It can be done and it has been done,” Culbertson said of the bridge replacement.
The first public input session on the Sea Bright-Rumson bridge will take place Monday Feb. 27, from 1-4 p.m. in Sea Bright, and 6-9 p.m. in Rumson.
Another stakeholder gathering will be held in April.