By SUE MORGAN
It’s not too much holiday sugar that has Sea Bright and Rumson officials and residents hopped up about a proposed new Route 520 bridge over the Shrewsbury River.
Rather, it’s a statement contained in a Monmouth County Department of Engineering slide show that indicates officials in both towns have endorsed one of five proposals previously presented to replace the nearly 60-year-old drawbridge at an estimated $30 million to $40 million cost.
No official in Sea Bright has ever sanctioned any of five alternatives first presented at a public forum in town in October, 2006, according to both current Mayor Maria Fernandes and her predecessor, Jo-Anne Kalaka-Adams.
Ditto in Rumson, says Mayor John Ekdahl.
“Absolutely not,” Ekdahl tells redbankgreen. “The county has never asked us for our input.”
Although he attended a public forum presented by the county engineers office in his community during the fall of 2006, Ekdahl says he has not heard a word from Freehold about the bridge replacement plan since then.
The slide show, bearing a production date of September 8, 2008, was recently emailed as a computer file to the borough at Fernandes’ request. It was displayed to the public by Councilman Brian Kelly during that boroughs Smart Growth workshop on Dec. 18.
No one from the county engineer’s office was present to narrate and field questions, a scenario that county Engineer Joseph Ettore described as unusual and out of the department’s typical protocol.
The slide show, which Fernandes said she requested to see how far along the project is, was presented to the Monmouth County Transportation Advisory Board at that entity’s meeting in September, Ettore said, and was created for that purpose. At that time, the advisory board, which works on a consulting basis with the county’s planning board and answers to the freeholder board, was reviewing ongoing and planned bridge repair projects.
But attendees at Sea Bright’s Smart Growth meeting, including Kalaka-Adams, were surprised and miffed upon reading the sentence printed on one slide indicating that governing bodies in both Rumson and Sea Bright support the county’s use of “Alternate 3.” That option, which calls for rebuilding the bridge just south of its current location, is of the five replacement options briefly described on other slides and initially presented in the October, 2006 forums.
“Alternate 3” also shows that the new bridge’s anchorage on the Rumson side would be located on the residential street known as “old
River Rumson Road” that was once the end of the current Rumson Road. It would also take over a pocket park at the end of the street, which Ekdahl noted is county-owned land.
“I can’t imagine that they would choose that route,” said Ekdahl who did not attend the Smart Growth workshop in Sea Bright. “The pocket park was just constructed by the county.”
On the Sea Bright side, the plan could result in the removal of what’s now a Dunkin’ Donuts and a neighboring Gulf gas station to make way for a ramp.
Fernandes, who was a councilwoman two years ago when Ettore and other presenters showed the five replacement and repair options during the public forum, recalled her initial reaction to the countys plans.
“I remember us telling them then that we didnt like any of the five options,” Fernandes told about 25 residents assembled at the Smart Growth meeting.
“It’s misleading,” Kalaka-Adams added during the public portion. She recalled that she opposed the plan because of the possibility of taking the gas station and donut shop by eminent domain.
Ettore said the county has not chosen any of the five alternates first presented and agreed that the slide show, created by an engineering department staffer, should not indicate that either municipality has endorsed any of the five plans first shown.
“Nothing has changed,” Ettore said told redbankgreen. “We’re still looking at the various alternatives. No absolute decision has been made.”
For now, residents of both towns probably wont see any construction equipment on the Route 520 bridge for at least five years, or “possibly even 10 years,” said Ettore, a point that has also been shared with officials and residents in both towns.
The state Department of Transportation must first complete the reconstruction of the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge carrying Route 36 over the Shrewsbury River. Once that fixed span is up and running, the county expects to begin replacing the Oceanic Bridge between Rumson and Middletown, a project that takes priority over the Route 520 bridge, Ettore said.
County statistics mentioned in the slide show indicate the Route 520 Bridge opens 4,000 times a year to let vessels with high masts pass safely underneath. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it opens about 50 times during the weekdays and about 15 to 20 times during summer weekends. It is also one of Sea Bright’s three emergency evacuation routes.