By John Burton
RUMSON — It was all smiles and congratulations as local, county and state officials gathered on the Oceanic Bridge Friday morning to celebrate the completion of the renovation project that closed the bridge since last fall.
“This is a historic day and one I know we’ve been all looking forward to,” Monmouth County Freeholder Thomas Arnone said.
Arnone, who serves as the freeholder liaison for public works and engineer, was acknowledging the difficulty faced by area businesses and residents with the bridge’s closing for the past seven month. During that period, drivers were forced to take circuitous detours, and business owners noted the impact the closing had on their customers and the their bottom line.
“As you know it is a very long way around,” about 8 miles to circumvent the bridge crossing, Arnone said.
Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl kidded the crowd on hand, commenting, “Our business district, it was nice and peaceful over here. We didn’t have to wait in line for a sandwich at Brennan’s,” referencing the popular River Road deli.
“But our businesses were hurting,” he acknowledged seriously, as they struggled to keep going through the holiday season and after. Rumson businesses, he said, had weathered the winter not too terribly, seeing receipts drop by about 10 percent. But, “For the last few months, it’s been getting tough,” Ekdahl explained.
Another group that had been inconvenience, are those who would travel across the Navesink River to catch the commuter ferry out of Highlands, Atlantic Highlands or the Belford section of Middletown. “We thank them for hanging in there with us,” Ekdahl said. “They can now reset their alarms and get back to their regular schedule.”
The Oceanic Bridge, a 2,752-foot county-operated drawbridge, spans the Navesink River connecting Rumson to the Locust section of Middletown. But at age 72, the structure had been deteriorating and required a considerable amount of work to shore it up to accommodate the approximate 12,000 motorist a day who use it, even before the final plan could be drafted on its eventual replacement.
The bridge underwent substantial work, refurbishing its movable double-leaf bascule span, removing and replacing the grid deck, completing much needed work to the electrical components, and giving it a facelift, scraping, painting and removing building rust. Workers removed about 7,500 pounds of rust, according to Arnone.
“The fact of the matter is this is no small bridge and no small feat,” Middletown Mayor Anthony Fiore said.
The project, budgeted at $3.5 million and scheduled to be completed by Memorial Day, came in on budget and ahead of schedule, officials noted.
That bill was footed completely by the state Department of Transportation’s Transportation Trust Fund.
The bridge also will return to allowing a maximum 15-ton weight limit; the weight limit had been reduced to 3 tons prior to its closing, because of the bridge’s overall condition.
County engineers are now moving forward with the next stage, the eventual replacement of the span.
When county engineers and officials began discussions on the bridge’s future some years back, tentative plans called for the drawbridge to be replaced with a fixed span one. But that plan sparked opposition from those living in the area, who feared a fixed span structure would tower over the area, impeding the views, and impacting on property values. A fixed span bridge would have to be about 55-feet high to accommodate water traffic, based upon U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore said.
County officials this morning, seemed supportive of the local residents’ views on keeping a drawbridge. Arnone said, “It’s very special to keep it the way it is.”
“I assure you, the Monmouth County Freeholders have listened to you,” Freeholder Director John Curley, said.
State transportation officials are evaluating the project and hopefully will render a decision by the end of the year. The plan would be to construct a new bridge while the existing structure remains open, Ettore said.
That project would be as much as five to 10 years down the road, Etttore said.
Friday was about getting back to normal and back to his regular business, Todd Thompson said.
Thompson is president of the Friends of the Oceanic Bridge, and owner and operator of Guaranteed Plants and Florist, Locust.
“I’m glad it’s open,” he said, noting his business has been down about 30 percent since last October. For his business May is the busiest month, with Mother’s Day activity.
“It would have been nice if it had been a week earlier,” he said.