RUMSON-SEA BRIGHT SPAN INCHES FORWARD

A concept plan discussed by Monmouth County Engineer Joe Ettore, in Sea Bright below, shows a proposed new alignment for the bridge and approach. The existing bridge, in white, would be torn down. (Photos by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

Sea Bright residents will face yet another extended bridge closure after the one that’s scheduled to begin next week, but there’s no reason to freak out just yet – it’s still at least eight years away.

Representatives of the Monmouth County Engineering Department were in town Wednesday afternoon to host a public information session designed to offer updates and receive feedback on plans to replace the current Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge over the Shrewsbury River.

According to county Engineer Joseph Ettore, the project is still in it’s first stage, what the department refers to as “concept development,” and it will still be roughly 8 to 10 years at least before ground is broken on the new span.

Still, “even though the actual building of the bridge seems far away, it’s absolutely critical that we address all needs and concerns right now, before development goes any further,” Ettore told a packed audience at borough hall. “These things take years of precise planning.”

According to Ettore, it’s vital that the department “dot all the i’s and cross the t’s” before applying for federal funding, because neither the county nor the state can afford to finance the bridge’s badly needed repairs without help from Uncle Sam.

The new bridge design, labeled ‘3F’ by the engineers, is expected to cost nearly $58 million.

Bruce Riegel, project manager, said that the design is the product of numerous drafts, incorporating what officials believe to be the best possible elements from previous drafts. That includes a reasonably low price, “single-stage”  construction that would allow traffic to pass without interruption, and a shorter construction time, estimated at two years, than under previous models, while meeting all environmental and socio-economic needs along the way, he said.

During a brief presentation, Riegel said that the existing 62-year-old bridge holds an overall condition rating of three on a scale of 10, is structurally deficient, has exposed and rusted reinforcement, corrosion on base and floor beams, and that the overall design from the bridge is “terribly outdated.”  bridge will be completely replaced over two years of continuous construction.

“The new bridge design will implement current safety standards, decrease routine maintenance, improve traffic flow, and modernize the electrical components, allowing for quicker bridge raisings and lowerings, as well as provide increased room for bicycles and foot traffic,” Reigel said.

After the presentation, the floor was open to Sea Bright residents, and many were quick to speak their minds.

“What we really need is four lanes coming south into the bridge’s intersection,” one woman said, referring to southbound Ocean Avenue. “The traffic can line up for miles on end in the summer.

“Why don’t we think about tearing down Anchorage [apartments] – is anyone even going to be living there anymore?” she asked.

Ettore replied that officials had in fact been in touch with the owner of the complex before Hurricane Sandy, and that they would reach out to them again to see where they would stand on the idea, though he said he wasn’t sure a four-lane road on Ocean Avenue would work out in the end.

“We have to think about the kids, too,” another resident chimed in. “Don’t you think a four-lane highway would increase the risk of someone getting hit by a car? It happens anyway with the way the road it now. Do we really want to risk lives in order to get out of traffic?”

Many residents voiced concerns about the proposed bridge’s alignment, which would shift to the south about 30 feet, according to Riegel, therefore requiring the relocation of the “Dunkin’ Donuts” on the Sea Bright side of the bridge.

“We will work with Dunkin’ Donuts and try to mitigate this the best we can,” Ettore said. “We’ll make sure they find another place to set up shop within Sea Bright.”

Ettore also explained that the bridge closures scheduled to start next Monday had nothing to do with their plans, and that the decision was made in June by the county to do repairs on all four movable bridges in the county, including the Sea Bright-Rumson Bridge.

Still, he said, it was clear that these repairs were only temporary measures, and that the deteriorating state of the bridge required a modern replacement.

“This bridge is important for many reasons, especially after Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “It’s a vital connection between two close-knit communities, not to mention a very important flood evacuation route. This is a critical, long-term process, and we need public input to help us do our job.”

In addition to the public Q& A session of the presentation, each resident attending was given a suggestion sheet that was collected at the end of the session.

County officials were scheduled to repeat the presentation in Rumson Wednesday night.