By John Burton
The proposed choice for the replacement of the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge was met with a cool reception but eventual acceptance by local officials. It could, however, mean the loss – or at least relocation – of a couple of Sea Bright businesses.
Members of the public, Monmouth County and state officials and those they are labeling stakeholders, including local officials, attended an Oct. 4 session to discuss the plan to replace the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge. After studying eight options, the plan to construct a new movable drawbridge was chosen. The proposal calls for a bridge alignment that would be 10 feet south of the existing bridge.
The present span extends from Rumson Road eastward across the Shrewsbury River connecting with Sea Bright and Ocean Avenue/Route 36 running north and south.
The decision of which proposal to choose was made by a consulting engineering firm, Monmouth County engineers and representatives from various state departments following a series of meetings in Rumson and Sea Bright that began in February, according to Martine Culbertson, the contracted community involvement facilitator for the project.
The plan calls for the bridge to have sidewalks, shoulders and designated bicycle paths, features that members of the public said they wanted, said Bruce Riegel, project manager for Hardesty and Hanover, LLC, an engineering firm contracted for the project.
The existing bridge could continue to operate while the new one is being constructed.
But having the bridge built just south of the current one would mean officials will have to acquire a commercial property. The site, 1002-1006 Ocean Ave., is the location of a Dunkin’ Donuts and the Sea Bright Service Center, a gas station and repair shop.
“They would look to relocate that business,” Culbertson told Sea Bright representatives present, including Mayor Dina Long and council members William J. Keeler, Marc Leckstein and C. Read Murphy.
The borough officials were troubled by the loss of a business in their community.
“There’s no place to relocate a Dunkin’ Donuts or a gas station in Sea Bright,” Leckstein said. “They’re gone.”
“It’s a bridge replacement but it’s an important component for both communities,” Culbertson acknowledged. She said that if the choice moves forward, every effort would be made to accommodate the businesses.
The site owner, John Regan, 85, of Oceanport, said his father bought the property more than 60 years ago. While he has kept tabs on the various proposals for a new bridge, no one has informed him about the proposed design chosen by the panel.
“It makes no difference to me whether they buy it or not. If they want my property and have enough money, buy it,” he said.
Regan disagrees with the proposed plan. He feels the bridge should be constructed on the northern side of the existing one and should be a fixed span bridge. A drawbridge, he said, simply snarls road traffic during the summer. “The whole town of Sea Bright suffers,” he said.
The location has had a gas station there going back to the late 1920s, according to Regan.
Attempts to contact the service station owner were unsuccessful.
The Dunkin’ Donuts, next to the gas station, has been there for a little more than nine years, said its owner, Dominic Sequeira, when reached by phone. He also has not been contacted about this proposal and what it would mean for his business.
“If it happens and that’s the way it’s going to go, we’ll see what happens and what our options are,” said Sequeira, whose franchise agreement limits his ability to make public comments.
During the Oct. 4 meeting, those involved in the project said they had rejected options, like a fixed span bridge because the public comments were strongly opposed to it. That plan would also increase construction costs. Other proposals would have a temporary bridge erected while the old one was dismantled and a new one built.
Another rejected option called for the old bridge to be taken down and traffic detoured for approximately two years while the new bridge is built. That proposal was met with fierce resistance from much of the public and local officials, Reigel said.
Initially, local officials from Sea Bright and Rumson Administrator Tom Rogers weren’t happy with the preferred plan.
“You guys are not listening to what we said,” Rogers told those working on the project.
A new bridge should be constructed to allow for four lanes of traffic – two each way – to keep it moving during the busy summer months, he said.
The bridge is designed for two lanes, but local officials noted in reality it operates as four with the shoulder.
Sea Bright Councilman Murphy reiterated a longstanding complaint about a state ban on turning right on red for those who want to go south on Ocean Avenue after crossing the bridge. The State Department of Transportation currently prohibits it and has been reluctant to change it, citing safety concerns.
“Our town is a parking lot, a parking lot all summer and that’s because of the Rumson Bridge,” Murphy said.
“There’s all kinds of problems with the traffic pattern,” Rogers agreed.
Reconfiguring the design, especially to expand the bridge to allow four lanes, and to redo Ocean Avenue to allow for additional right- and left-turn lanes, would add costs to the project, Culbertson said.
With that in mind, Rumson and Sea Bright officials huddled and agreed to accept the preferred option as the best plan. “What we were asking probably wouldn’t go forward,” Rogers acknowledged.
“I’ve been saying all along replacing this bridge is a good thing,” Long said later, with a hint of irony in her voice, but acknowledging it has to be done given its current state.
The bridge’s overall condition is “serious,” Riegel said, beyond the point of being able to simply repair it. “Ultimately if the condition isn’t addressed, the bridge will have to close.”
The project will be paid for with federal transportation funds. Tentative plans call for construction to begin in April 2016 and take about two years to complete.
Representatives plan on conducting a public input session in November, before any final decision is made about the design, Culbertson said. No date has been selected.