By John Burton
Work begins Jan. 28
SEA BRIGHT – While the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge needs work to ensure public safety, officials had the challenge of finding a way to lessen the impact of its closing on businesses and residents struggling to come back from the devastating effects of Super Storm Sandy.
The solution is to allow the work to move forward, beginning Monday, Jan. 28, for about three weeks but allow public access to the bridge on weekends.
“This is about the best of both worlds,” Monmouth County Freeholder Director Michael Arnone said.
Plans had called for the bridge, spanning the Shrewsbury River and connecting Rumson and Sea Bright, to be closed to traffic and pedestrians while the work progresses. But, local officials and business owners raised the issue about the impact the closing would have and county authorities worked to reduce it. To help lessen the blow, Arnone proposed having the work proceed from 9 a.m. Mondays through 3 p.m. Fridays while the bridge was closed and reopening it to vehicles and pedestrians for the weekends.
“This is a perfect example of government being able to work with the municipalities and the businesses to help as much as we can,” he said.
Officials for the contractor, IEW Construction Group, Trenton, believe the project can still be completed during the three-week schedule, even without weekends, Arnone added.
The work to be done is similar to what was just completed on the Oceanic Bridge, connecting Rumson to Middletown over the Navesink River. That involved replacing the traffic safety gates, equipment upgrades and maintenance work, according to Laura Kirkpatrick, a county public information officer.
“This work is required because the existing equipment is outdated and replacement parts are becoming more difficult to find,” Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore said in a prepared statement.
The work is is the final leg of a project to upgrade the equipment at the four county drawbridges. The overall project, slated for a total of $2.5 million and set in motion before the arrival of Sandy, was supposed to be completed during the winter, before the traditionally heavy traffic summer season. “Obviously, circumstances dictated a rethinking,” Arnone said.
The prospect of the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge closing was enough to concern those few businesses that have begun opening and are taking those first steps toward recovery from Sandy.
“The timing is very poor,” said a worried Chris Wood, who owns and operates Woody’s, an Ocean Avenue restaurant and bar, after he got wind of the original plan to close the bridge for three full weeks.
Wood, who reopened his establishment on Wednesday, Jan. 23, said, if he had known it would be closed for three weeks, he might have delayed his plans.
“I think this compromise is good news for the town,” he said after the amended plan was announced. “I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”
“I think for some of the businesses that just opened up, this would have really, really affected them negatively,” he said.
The bridge will be open to marine traffic during the project, according to information provided by the county.
The Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge will need additional work to repair Sandy-related damage. That work is expected to begin during the coming months but before the summer, and won’t require the bridge to close, Kirkpatrick said.
Funding for the work came from the state Department of Transportation’s Transportation Trust Fund.
The Oceanic Bridge was closed Jan. 7 for the planned work and reopened Wednesday, Jan. 23, officials said.