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17th Street Bridge In Cape May County

17th Street Bridge in Cape May County

Jon Moren, a designer with French & Parrello Associates, talks about the proposed replacement of the 17th Street Bridge in Cape May County.

One bridge is a major gateway into Ocean City. The other is a tiny span serving a local neighborhood.

Both bridges will pose their own set of construction challenges and traffic headaches for motorists when they are under construction over the winter, engineers warned Monday during two public hearings on the projects.

By far the greatest impact to traffic will be the redecking of the 34th Street Bridge, a vital entryway into the south end of the island used by an average of 20,000 vehicles per day.

Reconstruction of the 17th Street Bridge, on the other hand, will be limited to the surrounding neighborhood of about 100 homes, although those motorists will also have to be patient during the work.

Cape May County, the owner of both bridges, will give the 34th Street Bridge a much-needed overhaul while the 17th Street span is being replaced altogether.

Dale Foster, the county engineer, told local residents during the public hearings at the Ocean City Free Public Library that construction on both projects is scheduled to begin by Columbus Day in October and continue until Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the busy summer tourism season.

Construction will be choreographed to keep both spans open at all times during the work. However, there will be alternating, single lanes of traffic for both projects, which will cause delays and backups, officials said.

Brian McFadden, a design engineer for Greenman-Pedersen Inc., a Lebanon, N.J., company overseeing the 34th Street Bridge project, warned of “tough” commutes during the lane restrictions.

“There will be some pretty long queue lines,” McFadden said.

The estimated $8 million redecking of the 34th Street Bridge will be done in stages over the next two winters, with the project wrapping up in June 2018. To minimize traffic disruptions, the lane restrictions will be lifted during the busy summer months.

However, Foster noted that bridge traffic generally continues to be heavy even during the off-season, so the impacts will still be felt over the winter months. He said the bridge handles about 16,000 or 17,000 vehicles per day in the fall, winter and spring, compared to about 20,000 over the summer.

The 34th Street Bridge, built in 1964, is the most heavily traveled span owned by Cape May County. It is the second busiest entryway into Ocean City, behind the state-owned Route 52 Causeway-Ninth Street Bridge, Foster said.

After hearing of the traffic disruptions that motorists face ahead, local resident Sam Holt joked that the only way to avoid them would be to “buy an airplane.”

Holt, whose home on Waterview Boulevard is about two blocks from the bridge, said he is willing to deal with the traffic interruptions as long as the span is fixed in the end.

“I don’t have a lot of concerns because the bridge needs to be rebuilt,” he said. “The inconveniences don’t bother me because the work really has to be done.”

Construction crews will refurbish the bridge’s pockmarked and pitted concrete deck.  Foster explained that corrosion caused by the seashore’s salt air as well as rock salt placed on the roadway during snowstorms have taken a toll.

“It is way overdue for a deck rehabilitation program,” he said.

Foster fears that any significant delays with the bridge’s rehabilitation could result in holes breaking through the entire deck surface.

“If we wait much longer, I’m afraid we’ll have some deck failures,” he said.

Meanwhile, the 17th Street Bridge promises to create its own problems during its reconstruction. Although traffic will be maintained during the entire project, it will be restricted to only one lane.

Foster estimates the span is used by about 1,000 vehicles per day during the peak summer season.

Warren Reiner, a resident of West 17th Street for 65 years, said the surrounding neighborhood includes 114 homes.

Reiner called the existing 30-year-old bridge “a monster.” He is thrilled that it will be replaced by what is described as a more attractive design that is compatible with the community.

“It’s ugly,” Reiner said. “The appearance is so much in conflict with the neighborhood.”

Jon Moren, the bridge designer with French & Parrello Associates of Wall, N.J., explained that construction crews will use a less intrusive form of pile driving to avoid vibrations and damage to homes during the project.

“It’s really great because there’s no vibration at all,” he said.

Surveys will be done of nearby homes before construction begins and after the project is completed to double-check for any possible damage caused by the project. It would be the contractor’s responsibility to fix the damage, Moren said.

The existing 17th Street span, made of aluminum and known for its large hump in the middle that limits traffic visibility, must be replaced because of serious rusting, Foster said.

Cape May County expects to award the construction contracts for both bridge projects in August or September.

Foster said an ongoing dispute between Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Legislature over the state’s Transportation Trust Fund could delay the projects if the stalemate is not settled before early fall.

Christie has ordered a shutdown of state-funded road and bridge projects until the deadlock is resolved and a new plan is agreed on to replenish the cash-strapped Transportation Trust Fund.

The 34th Street and 17th Street bridge projects would each receive $1 million from the Transportation Trust Fund.  Foster expressed hope that both sides will “get their act together” to renew the trust fund so that the Ocean City bridge projects can be built on schedule.

Originally published online by Donald Wittkowski on OCNJ Daily.

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