By JOHN T. WARD
Business owners in Hurricane Sandy-walloped Sea Bright were reeling Friday afternoon on word that Monmouth County plans to shut down the Rumson-Sea Bright (Route 520) bridge for up to a month starting as early as January 28.
“It’s cutting off our lifeline as we’re recovering from a massive heart attack,” said Woody’s Ocean Grille owner Chris Wood, who just took delivery of $50,000 worth of liquor and food in preparation for a planned reopening in the desolate downtown next Wednesday.
“We’re just trying to get ourselves back open,” said Frank Bain, owner of the recently reopened Bain’s Hardware, “and a very large portion of our customer base comes over that bridge.”
The closure would force Sea Brighters heading to westerly mainland towns to travel south through Monmouth Beach or north through Highlands, adding miles to even the shortest jaunts. Those taking the southerly route will encounter a second detour, for the rebuilding of a bridge on Seven Bridge Road in Little Silver.
The northerly route requires a trip across the Oceanic Bridge, which is itself now closed for repairs but is expected to reopen next Wednesday, Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl tells redbankgreen.
The steel-decked Route 520 drawbridge, spanning the Shrewsbury River, is the subject of ongoing deliberations over whether it should be replaced or restored, a years-long process that is scheduled to continue next Wednesday with public presentations in Sea Bright and Rumson.
In the interim, the bridge requires immediate attention, Ekdahl said he was told by county officials Friday.
“Structurally, there are some deficiencies, and they have to sort of rebalance the bridge,” a process that prohibits keeping one lane open to traffic, he said.
Ekdahl said he and borough Administrator Tom Rogers “did plead the case of Sea Bright, because it’s their lifeline you can’t buy a newspaper in Sea Bright, you can’t buy a gallon of gas. We asked if they could keep one lane open, but they said no.”
Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long said she was informed of the pending closure by county officials Friday afternoon. The town was given a say in when the outage begins, she said.
“They’re trying to work with us, so we’re weighing whether it’s worse to have the bridge closed now or later,” she said. “The bottom line is the repairs have to be done.”
She said borough officials plan to respond with a recommendation Monday.
“I’m not complaining about the county or the closure,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s coinciding with the grand opening of an important business in Sea Bright.”
Late Friday afternoon, Woody’s owner Wood was busy working the phones, seeking help from elected officials.
“I don’t think I’m looking for a postponement,” he told 13th-district state Senator Joe Kyrillos of Middletown by phone during a visit by redbankgreen. “But can’t we do something like close it on Tuesday and Wednesday, or from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., or have one lane open? This is just going take my cash flow back to zero.”
“I guess it’s time to turn a negative into a positive again,” said Pat Trama, owner of Ama Ristorante Tuscana, which was open just a month when it was shut by the hurricane, and reopened in late November. “Obviously the repairs need to be attended to. Let’s hope we continue to get the overwhelming support we’ve been getting from residents of nearby towns while the bridge is closed.”