By John Burton
RUMSON – Changes at the Oceanic Bridge not only include its refurbishment but also who operates the drawbridge.
As county and local officials convened Friday, May 18, to celebrate the opening of the county bridge connecting Rumson to the Locust section of Middletown, Monmouth County Freeholder Director John P. Curley talked about the switch to a private company for the Oceanic Bridge and three other county spans.
“The county took a hard look at the operation of our four county drawbridges,” he said. It was determined it would be more cost effective to contract the operation to a private company, as opposed to continue using county, unionized employees.
Beginning on Jan. 1, the county contracted with Drawbridge Services, Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., to operate the Oceanic, Rumson-Sea Bright, Shark River inlet and Glimmer Glass bridges.
The county had 23 employees – 19 operators and four chief operators – working on those bridges, Curley said this week. With the signing of the agreement to privatize the operation, “right off the bat we saved $576,000,” in salary, benefits and pension costs.
New Jersey, according to Curley, is the last state on the eastern seaboard to use government workers to man the bridges.
“What this does is it keeps the county at an arm’s length, away from liability,” the freeholder said, meaning the private company would be the first recourse against any possible litigation. “Plus,” Curley said, “we don’t have to deal with employee conflicts,” as would be the case with union members.
The county employees are members of Communication Workers of America Local 1032. Phone and email messages to the local’s Ewing office this week to speak to the president, Patrick Kavanagh, were not returned by press time.
Drawbridge Services operates 50 bridges, mostly in Florida, but also in Washington, D.C. In addition to the four in Monmouth County, the company operates one in the Atlantic City area, the company’s president, Daniel Porter, said.
Drawbridge Services has 37 workers employed in Monmouth County to man the four bridges; they all live in the areas where they work, Porter said.
Among those employees are “a handful” of former county bridge tenders, he said. All of his employees go through company training, including classroom instruction and on-site lessons, he said. Instruction is based on U.S. Coast Guard regulations and state and federal transportation regulations.
“It’s going very good,” since taking over, Porter said this week. “The customer [Monmouth County] is satisfied.” Curley said the bulk of county bridge workers were incorporated into other departments, with special attention given to longer serving employees who were approaching retirement.
The county’s move, Curley said, “shrinks the size of government,” and has no downside, that he has detected.
The Oceanic Bridge work was completed and opened last Friday after seven months and $3.5 million worth of repairs. The project was completed a week ahead of schedule and on budget, but its closure since last October forced drivers to take lengthy detours, and had local businesses worrying about downturns in their sales as inconvenienced customers sought out other locations.