The first few cars of eastbound traffic head toward Red Bank over the the new West Front Street bridge between Red Bank and Middletown Monday morning. Below, Red Bank Marina owner Steve Remaley with Red Bank Councilman Mike DuPont. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Slightly over budget but on time, the new West Front Street bridge linking Red Bank and Middletown opened Monday morning, replacing a clanging “temporary” structure amid forecasts that it might last for 75 or more years.
Though cosmetic work on the bridge will continue for several weeks, the opening – on the cusp of the summer season, and with a temporary closure of the nearby Oceanic Bridge about to begin – marked a victory against a ticking clock, Freeholder Tom Arnone told redbankgreen.
“It was all-hands-on” to get the bridge open after a five-month closure, he said.
With a week to go before the Memorial Day kickoff of summer, and the start of a three-week closure of the Oceanic Bridge between Middletown and Rumson set to start immediately after the holiday, the pressure was on to get the bridge open, Arnone said.
“If you drove past here over the past week or two, you saw people out here working all hours of the night,” he said. With the economies of multiple towns reliant on summer activity, “this could have been devastating if it wasn’t opened for this weekend,” he said.
At a final cost of $21.9 million, the bridge came in about $200,000 over budget, according to Monmouth County Engineer Joe Ettore.
About $13 million of the cost was picked up by the federal government, with state funding covering the balance, according to state Senator Joe Kyrillos, who joined Monmouth County and local officials for a brief ceremony mid-span in foggy weather before the bridge was opened to traffic.
The new bridge, which sweeps north of the bridge it replaced, features wider lanes, with shoulders, and six-foot-wide sidewalks along both the north and south edges. The old bridge had no shoulders, and just one sidewalk.
The sidewalk along the south edge of the new bridge will remain unopened, however, as crews complete work there over the next several weeks, Ettore said.
Meantime, removable Jersey barriers wall off the shoulder of the eastbound lane at each end of the span to protect workers. Once completed, a ramp along the west side of the North Jersey Coast Line tracks will enable pedestrians and cyclists to cross Shrewsbury Avenue at a nearby railroad grade crossing. [For more about this, see redbankgreen‘s 2012 article on the “sidewalk to nowhere.”]
The ceremony attracted about a dozen onlookers, including Steve Remaley, who owns the Red Bank Marina at on the Red Bank end of the bridge. The five-month closure of the crossing adversely impacted his business, “but look at the outcome,” he said. “This is a beautiful bridge.”
“They did a good job. I’m impressed,” said Pat Blake, of the River Plaza section of Middletown, who walked onto the span to with his year-old son.
Red Bank Administrator Stanley Sickels said borough officials had asked, early in the design process, that the bridge reflect the styling of the Route 35 Cooper’s Bridge nearby, with brick parapets and gaslight-style lamps. The two bridges match, he noted.
The bridge project will continue for another year as the old “temporary” steel bridge, which has been in place for more than a decade, is dismantled for reuse elsewhere in the county. The pilings that support it will also be removed, Ettore said.
Meantime, “we’re all taking bets on how long it take for a truck to hit the trestle,” Remaley told redbankgreen, referring to the rail trestle at the bridge’s eastern end that regularly sheers the roofs off trucks for inattentive drivers.
Though the approaches to the new span come equipped with electronic sensors and warning signs to alert drivers when their vehicles exceed the trestle’s 10-foot, 11-inch clearance, there was nothing the county could do about the height of the trestle, Ettore said.
“We did offer to work with [New Jersey] Transit to have the reconstruction of the trestle be part of this project, but they were not able to join us,” he said. “We’re hoping at some point they’re going to elevate the clearance, but right now, it’s the same as before.”
Because the trestle opening couldn’t be widened, the “lane assignments” on the Red Bank end aren’t what engineers would consider ideal, but sight lines for motorists are improved, Ettore said.