By John Burton
RUMSON – Local business owners say they are just going to have to deal with the closure of the Oceanic Bridge for the next three weeks.
“I don’t know what else we can do but just suck it up,” said Mike Maguire, owner of Molly Maguire’s Black Point Inn. Maguire expressed some frustration over the bridge’s closing and the impact it’ll have on his restaurant and bar business.
The Oceanic Bridge, a Monmouth County span that reopened in May after having been closed since November 2011, will be closed again on Monday, Jan. 7, for about three weeks for some additional work.
The closing follows an emergency three-day closing that began Dec. 26 when a nor’easter caused a mudslide on the span’s northeast corner, on the Middletown side. The bridge was reopened to traffic on Dec. 29.
The next closing, beginning Jan. 7, was previously scheduled, said Joseph Ettore, the county engineer.
The reason, Ettore said, is to allow contractors to do the necessary work on the drawbridge’s traffic and barrier gates. In addition, while traffic is being diverted for that work, NJ Natural Gas will do some upgrades to its infrastructure, and county workers will continue to repair what Ettore called “a major failure of that slope” that was the cause of the Dec. 26 closure.
County officials determined that closing the bridge in January for gate upgrades – after the holiday season and prior to the traditionally busy summer period – was the least disruptive, Ettore said.
It’s still difficult for business owners who were negatively impacted when the bridge was closed for six months.
“It clearly affects the businesses on this side of the river,” Maguire stressed.
When the bridge is closed to traffic – as when it was in late 2011 until just before Memorial Day – regular customers who travel from the northern side of the bridge might not want to take the additional time the detours require to come to his East River Road business, Maguire said. That would be another disruption to business at a time that has seen considerable disruptions.
“It’s a business where we look at our week-by-week totals,” to determine staffing, stock orders and projected goals, he said. With as many as three weekends involved, the closure can have a significant impact on Maguire’s bottom line.
Steve Bidgood, managing partner for Salt Creek Grille, located on Bingham Avenue, just off of the Oceanic Bridge, was fairly sanguine about the closure. He offered what sounded like a verbal shrug during a phone interview.
“We’ll, if they have to close it, it’s better in January,” he said. “Let’s hope the weather holds up and it doesn’t snow and delay it.”
While Bidgood was aware of the planned Jan. 7 closing, the late December closing left him a little vexed by county officials. “The county is very, very bad communicating with the public,” he contended, saying that accurate information was not quickly forthcoming. When the closing occurred, Bidgood heard all sorts of unreliable rumors about its duration.
“I understand they have to do it, but they have to communicate it better,” he said. “It can be very frustrating for a business owner.”
Donnie Woodham, manager of Rumson Wine and Spirits, 5 West River Road, seemed even more resigned.
“Really, it is what it is,” he said of the pending closing. “It’s only three weeks, not three months. It’s not the end of the world.”
Woodham said the bridge’s approximately six-month closure was an obstacle for customers and staff, but not an insurmountable one. Everyone seemed to adjust to it.
“There are more important things going with trying to get people back into their homes,” in the aftermath of Sandy, Woodham stressed.
The Jan. 7 closing is the final part of an approximately $2.5 million project for the county’s four drawbridges that was slated to repair and replace the gates and safety mechanisms. The project was funded by the state Transportation Trust Fund, Ettore said.
While the bridge is closed, county work crews will be shoring up the slopes that were damaged by Sandy and this most recent storm, he said.
The 70-year-old Oceanic Bridge is a more than 2,700-foot-long structure spanning the Navesink River that has already undergone about $3.5 million of repairs and renovations.