ON-TIME BRIDGE REOPENING EXPECTED

One leaf of the two-leaf bascule has remained open to allow for boat traffic to pass beneath the bridge. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

For six months, Salt Creek Grille owner Steve Bidgood has watched with guarded optimism the progress of work to replace the 100-foot-long bascule on the Oceanic Bridge over the Navesink River.

Denied since October the benefit of traffic the 72-year-old bridge was built to carry between Middletown and his side, Rumson, Bidgood’s foremost concern has been that the job wrap up, as advertised, by the start of the busy summer season – Memorial Day weekend.

“I’d love to see them do it,” Bidgood told redbankgreen this week, eyeing the elegant bridge framed by the restaurant’s windows. “If they do, I might even buy them dinner.”

It’s looking as though Bidgood will need to reserve a large table.

Monmouth County Engineer Joe Ettore, whose office is managing the project, tells redbankgreen that the Oceanic’s target reopening date remains Thursday, May 31.

An earlier reopening is possible, he said. But don’t count on it.

“We are doing everything we can, working with the contractor, to come in with the best possible date for reopening,” Ettore said Wednesday. “But there is critical work that remains, and that critical work has to by necessity take place at this late point in the project.”

Eighty-five-to-95 percent of the structural work is done, he said, but critical testing of the electrical and mechanical systems remains.

Ettore said the project “had a very tight window in which to complete a substantial amount of work” on the moving parts of the 2,752-foot-long span – by far the county’s longest. The timetable was designed to minimize the adverse economic impact on businesses that are reliant on bridge traffic, he said.

Aided by a snowless and unseasonably mild winter, it appears not a day of the summer season will be lost, Ettore said.

“The fact that we’re on-schedule is a real good sign, and we’re very happy with the contractor’s performance,” he said. The contractor on the $3.6 million job is Iron Bridge Group of North Brunswick.

Funding for the project came from the state, which prohibits early-completion incentives, Ettore said.

The repaired bascule is expected to have a useful life of 20 years, he said, but the long concrete approaches to the bascule are already overdue for replacement, a project that’s not expected to get into construction for at least three more years.

Local and county officials are hoping to persuade the federal government to fund another low-level drawbridge, rather than a high-arc, fixed span that area residents say would adversely affect property values and the aesthetics of the river.

The opening of a new bridge “is at least six years away, and it’s not inconceivable that it could be 10,” Ettore said.

Documents explaining the repair job can be found at the engineering department website.