DOT Gearing Up for Rehab of Old Route 72 Bridge

The old Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridge, which has helped residents and visitors cross over Barnegat Bay to Long Beach Island for many years, is finally going to be rehabilitated. Two lanes of traffic in each direction will be carried on the newly constructed bay bridge during rehabilitation of the old bridge. Construction is expected to be completed and the bridge to be reopened in June 2020. The reconditioned bridge will carry two westbound lanes, and the new bridge will carry two eastbound lanes.

A $63 million contract has been awarded to George Harms Construction Co. of Howell for the rehabilitation work, which also includes the Hilliards Thorofare Bridge at the western end of the Causeway. The rehabilitation will be conducted from west to east. Improvements to the thorofare bridge, which will be conducted in up to six stages, are equivalent to the work on the East and West thorofare bridges, including repairing and resurfacing the existing bridge deck, replacing the outside bay of the deck slab and repairing spalls on the existing pier caps.

The enhancements to the old bridge consist of pier cap rehabilitation; replacement of steel girders, deck slab, and parapets; installation of a new fender system; and scour protection for the existing abutments. At the completion of the final project in 2020, pedestrians will be able to cross the bridge via a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side, which will include a safety barrier separating the walk from traffic.

Thirteen-foot-wide bike paths that can be utilized for vehicular traffic during evacuations will also be included on the north and south sides of both of the bridges. This will hopefully help save lives, Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora, stated at a public forum on the bridge work held last week at the municipal building in Manahawkin. He noted all eastbound traffic disperses out of Stafford.

The $350 million federal project stretching from Stafford Township to Ship Bottom has been a long time coming. It was devised to enhance traffic flow during the busy summer months as well to ensure safety, especially during storm evacuations. Construction on the new, parallel Bay Bridge, which engineers said is now 99.9 percent complete, began back in 2013. Ongoing work has also consisted of mitigation on Cedar Bonnet Island, referred to locally as Bonnet Island, which, along with repairing the East and West thorofare bridges, is anticipated to be finished in December 2017.

Required by the state Department of Environmental Protection to create seven acres of wetlands mitigation, the DOT worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency to enhance Cedar Bonnet Island; that will include a soil berm to reduce the area’s wave energy, thus reducing flooding issues. During Superstorm Sandy, officials realized that many of the flooding problems in Beach Haven West were mostly caused by the waves, Spodofora said.

“So these are the things we need to do to the bay and to protect our residents,” he stated.

The island will also have a nature trail with interpretive signs, bird watching platforms and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy scenic views of the bay and Atlantic City.

Five parking areas, including one that has already been constructed near the island and four on the north side of the existing bridge, will be accessible to the public for recreational purposes.

Although the DOT would have purchased land to meet the mitigation requirement, DOT project manager Pankesh Patel said they were happy to enhance the already established 45-acre island. The old spoil site, which has now been cleared up, will include thousands and thousands of new plants worth $1 million. Patel said only a tenth of the plants have been planted so far.

To meet the DEP’s additional storm water management mitigation requirement, the DOT also upgraded two basins from concrete to gravel on Route 70 in Brick that remove total suspended solids and nitrogen to improve the health of the bay.

Both of these mitigation projects are a win-win for everyone, said Patel.

In Ship Bottom, where the other DOT informational meeting was held last week, officials are looking forward to one of the final phases of the project, which will involve numerous road improvements of the area near the Causeway. It will improve traffic flow for both north/south traffic on Long Beach Boulevard and along Eighth and Ninth streets (outgoing and incoming Causeway roads, respectively) as well as drainage improvements to improve access.

“When done, you’ll be able to drive straight through the Boulevard if you’re going south, instead of the mandatory turnoff at Eighth Street,” said Councilman Joseph Valyo. “There will also be two-lane traffic for the entire length of Central Avenue.”

He also said all of Eighth and Ninth streets will have sidewalks.

“Right now, it’s a tough stretch of road for pedestrians,” he said.

Valyo said he was pleased with the progress of the project.

“I think the DOT has tried to do this with as little inconvenience as possible for drivers,” he said. “It’s a huge project and they’ve done some traffic flow changes, but I think most people understand that these are necessary steps to get the work done on time. We’ll really be glad when our roads get fixed, because we still have a lot of problems with flooding after big storms.”

Lori Pepenella, chief executive officer of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’re glad to see progress. This is still a few years away from completion, but in the end, it will be a benefit to our businesses, vacationers and residents.”

Her office is located on Ninth Street.

“We get a lot of congestion here with traffic coming off the bridge in the summer,” she said. “The road improvements will hopefully alleviate those conditions.”

Back in Stafford, Spodofora, accompanied by Council President Dave Taylor, thanked the DOT engineers and contractors for working closely with him and Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck to create a well-planned project that enhances the local area and addresses the bridge’s various issues.

“I wish all of the projects went as well as this,” the mayor stated. “Over the years we sat with these people, and they listened to every idea we had, every issue that I had, and we’ve come up with solutions for everything.

“I think we have an outstanding design. I think this is a model for other towns that are adjacent to barrier islands to follow,” he added.

Although the DOT may be the expert on roads and transportation, Spodofora said, the project has required input from local residents and officials regarding the area’s day-to-day operations. All of the bridges are in Stafford’s jurisdiction, but the traffic configuration and ongoing drainage problems in Ship Bottom, especially during storms and the summertime, has had a major impact on both ends of the bridge, he added.

“As everyone knows, the old bridge was kind of falling apart, and if we didn’t get something done soon, we might have had a catastrophic event if there was a storm and that bridge started deteriorating even more,” said Spodofora. “So this is going to help a lot, if we have to evacuate the Island or we have to get back and forth real quick, or if there’s an issue on one of the bridges – maybe there’s a bad accident – we have a backup system. It’s all about redundancy. It’s all about designing things the right away.”

The mayor also thanked project officials for taking the time to include an upgraded rendition of the bridge’s famous String of Pearls lighting, which was something many local residents and officials lobbied to keep.

“It’s worth the effort when you hear that,” Patel said.

For safety reasons, the lights could not be installed as a traffic railing to illuminate the roadway as originally constructed in the mid-1950s by Dorland J. Henderson, a top DOT engineer, whom the bridge is officially named after. However, the new lighting system, which very closely approximates the original rendering, features LED fixtures designed to eliminate the need for repeated maintenance frequently experienced with the older system. One set of new lights runs along the southern face of the newly constructed bridge, and a second set will run along the northern face of the original, rehabilitated bridge.

For more information on the project, visit

– Reposted from The Sandpaper