SEA BRIGHT — County and state officials conducted two public input sessions last Monday to give area residents a chance to weigh in on what should and shouldn’t be done about the aging Rumson-Sea Bright bridge.
The first of the public sessions was held on the Sea Bright side of the Shrewsbury River at Sea Bright Borough municipal offices.
Approximately 30 area residents came out to hear what engineers and transportation officials had to say about the process and to share their opinions.
The existing county drawbridge, S-32, dates back to 1952 and “is in serious condition,” according to a 2009 report, Jon Moren, a Monmouth County engineer and project manager for this bridge.
“It’s a pretty harsh environment, this close to ocean,” Moren observed.
And at this point the bridge would need about $10 million in remedial repairs, to ensure its safety and bring it up to current code standards, Moren said.
But at this point, “All we’re doing is gathering the data,” added Bruce Riegel, project manager for a consulting firm working on this project.
Whatever is ultimately decided about the bridge – remediation or replacement—the cost will be covered by federal transportation money, project representatives said this week. At this point in the process, they indicated, is to determine what needs to be done.
“We don’t know what the problem is, to decide how to solve it,” offered Martine Culbertson, a consultant working on the project.
“Any and all input is welcome,” Culbertson added.
“I think a lot of people have a bad taste in their mouths about what happened with the other bridge,” said Tom Calvanico, Rumson. “We don’t want the same thing to happen.”
Calvanico was referring to the Highlands Bridge project which involved the replacement of a drawbridge connecting Highlands with Sea Bright and Sandy Hook.
When state officials announced they would construct a fixed span bridge to replace the deteriorating drawbridge, it brought a considerable outcry from area residents and historic preservationists who raised a myriad of objections, as well as reaction from local businesses who worried about what impact the multiyear construction project would have on their livelihoods.
The bridge was ultimately replaced with a fixed span.
Calvanico lives on Rumson Road, in close proximity to the existing bridge. “I’m back and forth all the time,” and the thought of a large arching fixed span bridge in his neighborhood is troubling. “I don’t want to see any big monstrosity,” he said.
“It seems to me that both communities are well informed,” said Sea Bright resident Natalie Nicole, following the presentation. But Nicole shared some of Calvanico’s reservations. “It’s such a narrow expanse” across the Shrewsbury River between the two communities, “My concern is they try to put one of those big bridges here,” she said.
“I’m nervous because my property is in proximity to the bridge,” said Sea Bright resident Mary McLynn, who worried about the possibility of government condemnation to obtain necessary property for a future project, among other considerations.
Alyssa Scheffer, Rumson, expressed concern about the requirements for the federal funding, such as a possible requirement that any replacement be a large, fixed span bridge. Looking at the bridge in neighboring Highlands, “It takes away the whole character of both communities,” she said, meaning Sea Bright and Highlands
“That’s why we’re all so nervous,” Scheffer explained. “We want it to stay the way it is.”
After the meeting, Moren acknowledged that federal transportation representatives favor fixed span bridges, when appropriate given a wide array of considerations. The U.S. Coast Guard will also be asked for a recommendation on how best to accommodate maritime traffic, he said.
Officials plan to hold additional public input sessions and meetings with local officials and will compile their final report in a little more than a year. As for any work, “2015 we should be breaking dirt,” Moren said.
Meanwhile, not to worry. “We’re constantly maintaining the bridge,” Moren said.