By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Long-awaited repairs to the Oceanic Bridge are expected to get started this fall, but the extent of the repairs will cause the bridge, which connects Rumson and Middletown over the Navesink River, to be closed for months, sending a blow to Rumson’s business district.
“It’s going to be devastating to the businesses,” said Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley. “Literally devastating.”
The work, to replace the aging and degraded drawbridge portion of the bridge, as well as other components, will last from October until Memorial Day, county Engineer Joe Ettore told redbankgreen.
Recently, the Monmouth County Freeholders approved plans for the repairs, estimated to cost close to $4 million and paid for through a state Department of Transportation trust fund, Ettore said.
The work will bring the weight threshold to at least a 10-ton limit, and optimistically, 15 tons, Ettore said.
Since October 2009, the bridge has been under a 3-ton limit, prohibiting large trucks and buses from crossing the bridge. Historically there had been a 10-ton limit, but deterioration to components of the bridge’s drawbridge portion, known as the bascule span, led to extensive tests and monitoring by the county to determine the extend of the damage. That same monitoring will be in effect once the repairs are done to determine the new weight limit, Ettore said.
The work, which requires complete removal of the steel grating of the drawbridge and replacement of other components, will extend the life of the Oceanic well into the future and while the county plans a new bridge, directly east of the Oceanic, Ettore said.
However, Curley and Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl said the federal government doesn’t typically support funding for movable bridges. A fixed-span bridge, like the recently completed Route 36 Highlands Bridge, has a better chance of funding.
But Ettore said surrounding towns as well as the county have provided full support of a low-level, moveable bridge similar to the Oceanic, and it will work toward securing funding for that project. The county projects it will take at least 10 years before construction on a new bridge begins, Ettore said.
In the immediate future, Ekdahl said the bridge’s closure is going to have a negative effect on his borough’s business community, especially with places like Unidici and Salt Creek Grille, popular destination eateries.
“Some of the businesses probably have 30 percent of their business from the Middletown side of the Navesink River,” he said. “I think it’s going to cause some hardship for many of our businesses, particularly the restaurants.”
Because the work is essential to the more than 70-year-old bridge, the borough and its businesses, as well as travelers, have to suck it up and hope for the best, Ekdahl said. Ettore said a detour of approximately eight miles, taking travelers across the Rumson-Sea Bright bridge and the Highlands bridge, will be in effect during construction.
“There’s really nothing we can do about it,” Ekdahl said. “It’s work that has to be done.”
Curley, a former Red Bank councilman who’s sat on the Board of Freeholders for nearly two years, said he’s seen too many cases of aged structures in need of repairs, and their effects on communities when it comes time for repairs is particularly harsh.
“I just see so many things on highways and bridges that have not been maintained well and that’s a sad state,” he said, “because it puts things in a dire state. That’s unfortunate, because there’s an entire community that’s affected.”
Just before work gets started on the Oceanic Bridge, Ettore said the county will also get started on a nine-month replacement of a portion of a county bridge on Seven Bridges Road in Little Silver.
The $1.7 million project will shut down traffic a portion of the roadway in Little Silver for about nine months, Ettore said. A detour will be in place, he said.
The timber-decked bridge crossing over Little Silver Creek will be raised about one foot and replaced with concrete components. Once complete, it will have no weight restriction, Ettore said.
Although the two bridge projects will occur in tandem, “we do not believe they will be a significant impact” to travelers, Ettore said.