By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Call it a tale of two bridges.
Over the Shrewsbury River, there’s progress. And not too far southwest, spanning the Navesink, there’s regression.
Not only can motorists see advances made on the new Route 36 bridge linking Sea Bright and Highlands, they can start taking advantage of the work from nearly two years of construction of the 65-foot high structure. A portion of the bridge opened to travelers on Friday.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation has been working on replacing the existing bridge since early 2008, and plans to have the new bridge complete in spring 2011, according to its website.
The portion opened on Friday is only half of the $124 million project. Travelers to and from Sandy Hook, including bicyclists and pedestrians, still have to use the existing bridge while the DOT continues work on the new bridge.
Mary Butkus can’t wait for the bridge work to be over. She rides her bike from her Ocean Grove home up to the Coast Guard lighthouse about every chance she gets, and she wants the work over with already.
“I don’t know what’s going on. It’s been a mess for quite some time,” she said.
But while problems in that area appear at least halfway toward ending, it seems they’re just beginning between Rumson and Middletown.
Because of the drawbridge’s deteriorating parts, the Oceanic Bridge has a reduced weight limit, down to 3 tons, from ten. That has been causing some minor issues for Rumson, according to Mayor John Ekdahl. He said police have been manning the approach to the bridge making sure no vehicle over 3 tons effectively, anything bigger than a passenger car doesn’t try getting on the bridge. Several summonses have been handed out, Ekdahl said.
To this point it hasn’t been a terrible bother to the borough. Ekdahl said some schedule tweaks have helped the police department avoid using overtime to monitor the bridge, though it could happen. The bigger worry, Ekdahl said, is the expiration of the ban in two weeks.
“What happens after Nov. 15? We don’t know at this point,” Ekdahl said.
It’s up to Monmouth County to try and find a solution. Ekdahl said the bridge needs serious work to get to a safer status.
“The county has a dilemma,” Ekdahl said. “If you have to fix the drawbridge, undoubtedly the bridge is going to have to be closed for a long time.”
The Asbury Park Press reported last week that Monmouth County had planned to use $1.3 million in federal stimulus money to make temporary repairs on the Oceanic Bridge until federal officials said the life of those repairs doesn’t meet their criteria.
That sent county officials scrambling to use state funds earmarked for a bridge and dam replacement project in Manalapan on the Oceanic, the newspaper reports.