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The Middle Thorofare Bridge, above, which connects the Wildwoods and Lower Township, is one of several county bridges freeholders seek to improve through the board's comprehensive bridge plan.

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DIAMOND BEACH - The Ocean Drive (CR621) Bridge over Middle Thorofare, also known as Two Mile Bridge and sometimes Cold Spring Inlet, is getting a long-awaited facelift with new bridge railings, a new approach roadway guide rail, a new fender system, and major structural steel repairs to the two bascule girders. 

According to a release, the project, initiated in 2017, will address the deteriorated bridge railing system by installing the current NJDOT standard four-bar railing system greatly enhancing the safety of the traveling public. The project also replaces the dilapidated fender system with steel and fiberglass-reinforced plastic materials to better protect the bridge’s foundation elements from recreational and commercial vessels using the busy navigation channel. Lastly, deteriorated steel elements of the two main bascule girders will be rehabilitated by installing new and supplemental steel plates in critical areas.

Middle Thorofare Bridge is one of five bridges along Ocean Drive, in Cape May County, owned and operated by the Cape May County Bridge Commission, an organization created in 1934 by the New Jersey Legislature and the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The bridge was opened to traffic in June 1940 and constructed concurrently with its sister draw bridges; Grassy Sound (Middle Twp.), Great Channel (Middle Twp./Stone Harbor), and Townsend's Inlet (Avalon/Sea Isle City), along with two fixed low-level bridges; Mill Creek and Upper Thorofare, just south of Middle Thorofare Bridge.

The bids were received Sept. 30, and the project was subsequently awarded by the county freeholders Oct. 13 to South State Inc., of Bridgeton, for $7,464,106. The project design was completed by WSP, of Lawrenceville, and Greenman-Pedersen, of Lebanon, with construction engineering services to be managed by Pennoni Associates, of Haddon Heights. 

Funding is provided by a 2018 bond ordinance through a Shared Services Agreement with the County Board of Chosen Freeholders and a $3,293,469 NJDOT Local Aid State grants received in a three year period.

Work will begin in the next week or two, with Phase 1 of the bridge railing replacement. The bridge roadway will be reduced to a one-lane alternating traffic pattern through the use of temporary traffic signals and traveling motorists should add additional time to their daily commute. Tolls will be collected during the project. 

Fender work is expected to get underway in December and continue throughout the winter months into spring 2021. With an average of 5,500 bridge openings per year, the fender work is being closely coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard and the local fishing industry to minimize navigation impacts through the 50-foot wide channel beneath the bascule span. 

The bridge’s operating schedule will be modified beginning Dec. 1, continuing through Feb. 28, and mariners should monitor U.S. Coast Guard local notice to mariners issued weekly. The project will require periodic overnight road closures at the bridge, which are necessary for the contractor to complete fender piling installation beneath the bascule span and setup/removal of the concrete barrier curbs which protect the public while the new bridge railing is being installed. The project’s overall completion date is December 2021; however, no long-term lane closures are permitted from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

At 80 years old, the Middle Thorofare Bridge is programmed for replacement, as part of the county’s Comprehensive Bridge Improvement and Replacement Plan released in August 2020. The larger-scale project replaces three bridges, one culvert, and approximately 2.75 miles of roadway from the Garden State Parkway to Madison Avenue, in Diamond Beach. 

The Local Concept Development Phase is seeking final approvals from NJDOT before beginning the Preliminary Engineering Phase. Federal and State funding is actively being sought by the County at present however a new bridge is likely a few more years away. When asked, why do all this work when the bridge is going to be replaced? The answer is simply; safety to the traveling public and protection of the bridge’s core elements until the structure is eventually replaced.

For updates on the rehabilitation construction activity, visit www.followthegull.com.

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