By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – It’s been a long time coming for area residents and local police but Seven Bridges Road, closed to traffic for about nine months, is scheduled to open Monday, April 22.
The controversial traffic lights installed to address traffic detours, however, will be staying – at least for now.
Laura Kirkpatrick, Monmouth County public information officer, said contractors were putting the finishing touches on the long-delayed project this week and projections had the road ready for operation in the coming week. The contractor, Lucas Brothers, Marlboro, was removing the temporary pedestrian bridge – which has been in place for the duration of the project – and doing additional surface paving and other final items to bring the project to completion, Kirkpatrick said.
The project budgeted at about $2.7 million and overseen and designed by county engineers involved replacing an aging, structurally deficient wooden bridge with a new bridge. The new structure has concrete decks, reinforced concrete abutments and reconstructed bulkheads for the Little Silver Creek.
The work necessitated that the road be closed to vehicular traffic following last year’s July 4th weekend. County engineers said at the time that the work was expected to be completed by January.
However, Super Storm Sandy and subsequent storms played a role in the delay with the protracted power outages forcing the project to take longer than anticipated.
The closed road resulted in traffic being detoured, with northbound traffic directed to Silverside Avenue and then to Branch Avenue and southbound traffic detoured west onto Rumson Road to Branch Avenue.
County officials installed two traffic lights on Branch Avenue at the White Road and Rumson Road intersections to better regulate the increased traffic in the area. The decision caused concern and complaints from some area residents who objected to idling and increased traffic in their neighborhood – and feared the lights would become permanent.
Kirkpatrick acknowledged the lengthy project was troublesome for local residents.
“You want to try and get these projects done as quickly as possible to reduce the impact on the people who use the road,” she said, but the delays were unfortunate and unavoidable.
The bridge replacement was just one of a number of projects under way throughout the area during the same time, including the temporary closing of the Oceanic Bridge connecting Rumson and Middletown over the Shrewsbury River, and the closing of the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, first due to the damage to Sea Bright by Sandy and then for needed bridge repair work.
Little Silver Police Chief Daniel Shaffrey welcomes the end of the project. “We’ve been waiting for this,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
With the closure and detours, motorists have found their own shortcuts, oftentimes traveling through residential neighborhoods – sometimes speeding – and past the borough’s two schools, he said. “At pickup and drop-off it was a nightmare,” at the schools.
Compounding the problem is the Point Road School construction project and curb installation on Lippincott Road, across from the school, Shaffrey said.
“It just added to the chaos,” he said.
While the road barriers are expected to come down Monday, the traffic lights on Branch Avenue will remain, at least initially, as police and county officials evaluate traffic flow from the reopened road.
“I think the neighbors in the immediate area certainly have their concerns,” Kirkpatrick said, noting the lights were installed at the request of borough officials.
“I feel for the residents who live there. It’s difficult. I understand that,” Shaffrey said. “But you have to look at the whole picture.”
Initial data has shown that traffic accidents and injuries have decreased during the time the lights have been in place, Shaffrey said.
During the nine months the lights have been operating on Branch Avenue, collisions have been cut by half – from 24 the previous 12 months to 12 during this period – and those accidents have been less serious with fewer injuries, according to Shaffrey.
The chief said he is reserving judgment about whether to make the lights permanent until studies have been completed. That decision ultimately rests with the borough council, he said.