Monmouth County workers on the Oceanic Bridge this morning. Further inspections on the bridge are expected to start later this week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Monmouth County officials have extended the “conservative” three-ton weight limit on the Oceanic Bridge until at least the beginning of next year, they said Monday morning in a meeting with public officials from Rumson and Middletown, which the Oceanic links.
The self-imposed load limit, which was reduced from 10-tons to three last month, expired Sunday. But county Engineer Joe Ettore said the three-ton limit will stay in effect until Jan. 15 while a state-of-the-art stress testing is conducted.
The limit effectively bans anything larger than a passenger vehicle, a low threshold Ettore said was set to err on the side of caution. Though there’s no guarantee, the real-time results of the inspections and tests throughout the next six weeks could reveal that it’s safe to increase the limit to allow emergency vehicles and school buses on the bridge, he added.
The county has OK’d a contract with Drexel University and East Coast-based Pennoni Associates to use a new form of sensor and information technology that will provide the county with immediate results on the stress areas of the bridge. Ettore said the result will be better data on load capacity and needed repairs. The contractors will use heavy trucks to test the bridge’s capacity.
“It gives us a real-time indication of stresses so it gives us a real sense of the capacity of the bridge,” Ettore said, adding that those indications will “allow us to make better decisions.”
A couple of scenarios could surface over the course of the inspections, Ettore said. The most optimistic would be that the bridge is safe enough for the county to follow through on planned winter work to reinforce deteriorating beams and girders, which would be an estimated two- to four-month fix.
“If we close the bridge in February it’s not as painful as closing in December,” Rumson Borough Administrator Tom Rogers said, explaining to Ettore that cutting off traffic to the borough’s riverside businesses during the holiday season would be detrimental.
But even more detrimental to not only the local economy, but also to ferry commuters and the county checkbook, would be shutting down the bridge for at least a year, which is another possibility if the inspections reveal that the bridge’s bascule span the drawbridge portion needs to be replaced.
“That’s a situation we’re looking to avoid,” Ettore said, because any repairs to the 70-year-old bridge are simply interim until a new bridge is built five or ten years from now. “What we’re looking for is something to be safe and operational until a new bridge is built.”
Ettore said the county’s hope is to have results from the inspections by January and be able to move ahead with planned repairs to the drawbridge and its supporting components by late-February or early-March, making a re-open date of Memorial Day “absolutely critical.”
In the meantime, travelers can expect much of the same from the last few weeks. The bridge will stay open while the inspections take place, Ettore said. It is possible, depending on the inspection results, that repairs are pushed back until after next summer in order to avoid cutting travelers off for such a busy time of year.
Both Middletown and Rumson officials said they intend to notify residents of what’s ahead, most likely in the form of a mass mailing or a press release on their respective websites.