In August, Cape May County and the Cape May County Bridge Commission issued a bridge replacement and improvement plan (http://bit.ly/CMCBridgePlan). The plan represents an important step by the local government to tackle one of the most significant infrastructure problems facing the county.
Cape May County owns and operates 23 county bridges. The County Bridge Commission has responsibility for five commission bridges that link the barrier islands along Ocean Drive.
Dealing with the aging bridge infrastructure across the county is critical to our $6.6 billion tourist economy that brings as many as 10 million visitors to our roads each year. It is also crucial to the life and well-being of the county’s permanent residents.
With some bridges that have already exceeded their useful lives and others quickly approaching that point, this plan comes none too soon. Although it had been worked on for over a year before the pandemic made an appearance here, it is a credit to the foresight of county leaders that they have elected to move forward with issuing the plan, even in the face of uncertain economic recovery.
What Does the Plan Say?
The plan calls for major improvements on 12 of the county bridges, spans for which the report says “continued maintenance of the structures is not an option.” These bridges must be replaced or undergo substantial rehabilitation.
The remaining 11 county bridges are said to be in “satisfactory condition and do not need major improvements or replacements in the next 10-15 years.” Some of them may require additional elements in their routine future maintenance.
The report also notes that 20 “minor” bridges are not part of the current plan. It says that a number of these spans are not county-owned and may fall under municipal control and responsibility. These bridges have not been evaluated or programmed for improvements as part of this plan.
Also left out of the document are the state-owned bridges on Routes 47, 50, and 83.
The five commission bridges along Ocean Drive begin with the Ocean City-Longport Bridge, in the north, down to the Middle Thorofare Bridge that links the Wildwoods and Diamond Beach to Cape May and Lower Township, in the south.
The Ocean City-Longport Bridge was replaced in 1999-2002. The four commission bridges to the south are all considered structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. All four are programmed for replacement in the plan.
Cost estimates for this ambitious effort range, in the plan, from $603 million to $890 million over a 15-year design and construction period. The county has optimistically targeted up to 70% of the costs to be covered by non-county funds, principally state and federal transportation and road grants.
Understanding that may be difficult to achieve, especially in a post-COVID-19 economy at state and federal levels, the plan states that the county’s financial contribution may have to be as high as 50%. The plan asserts a high degree of confidence that at least 50% of the cost can be obtained from out-of-county sources.
At 50%, the cost to county taxpayers would be between $301 million and $445 million. The plan notes that the county would have the ability to bond, over several years and phases, as much as $500 million for the work, if necessary.
It also states that a funding plan is in place, and has been since 2017, which will complete the replacements and improvements with “modest and manageable effect on county taxpayers.”
With many of the bridges, there is little option but to move forward. The problem has reached a point where it can't be ignored.
Cape Issues has been advocating action on the county bridges for several years. With county leaders ready for action, our focus must be on management, execution, and funding of this ambitious effort.
We applaud the initiative that produced a comprehensive plan, yet, with the level of estimated funding in the balance, the public needs to know much more about how the plan will be executed.
Some of our concerns are listed here and will be explored in more depth in a second article published in next week’s Herald (Sept. 23). The concerns listed are not meant as criticisms of the plan, but rather as an identification of areas in need of greater public information.
In the remainder of this year, or in 2021, over a dozen of the defined projects in the plan will be at some stage of design or construction. The county needs to provide the public with details of how it will manage so many overlapping efforts. Are we properly staffed for this challenge? Will we be using a general contractor?
How were the cost estimates arrived at and do they take into account appropriate contingencies and escalating costs over the 15-year proposed life of the project?
On what does the county base its estimate that 50% to 70% of the costs will be funded from state and federal sources? The current state regional transportation plan, which goes to 2050, displays no knowledge of this comprehensive bridge replacement and rehabilitation effort and it contains no funding proposals for such an effort. In fact, the regional plan states openly that the South Jersey region is routinely underfunded, especially in light of the seasonal demands on its infrastructure.
Is the schedule, especially the heavily loaded front end, realistic?
What proactive plan does the county have for dealing with potential environmental and historic preservation objections to the effort?
The plan notes that the county began setting aside tax dollars to support this plan, in 2017, but it fails to inform the public how much has already been set aside.
Cape Issues has argued for a comprehensive approach to our bridges for some years now. The plan is now before us all. Its success will depend on public support and cooperation. We will continue to follow developments at every stage and we will share what we learn with you.
Members of the community who wish to comment are always welcome to contact Cape Issues via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cape Issues was established, in 2008, as a non-partisan volunteer group to advocate for the betterment of life, in Cape May County, a very broad goal. We have met monthly since and been fortunate to have the support of the Cape May County Herald from the beginning.
County Bridges Identified for Major Improvements or Replacement
0500-003 Gravens Thorofare, Avalon and Middle Township, 1967
0500-005 Ludlam’s Thorofare, Dennis Township and Sea Isle City, 1963
0500-006 96th Street, Middle Township and Stone Harbor, 1930
0500-009 Leonards Thorofare, Middle Township, 1967
0500-010 21st Street, Avalon, 1990
0500-018 Cedar Swamp Creek, Upper Township, 1967
0500-023 104th Street, Stone Harbor, 1987
0500-024 25th Street, Avalon, 1987
0500-028 Great Channel, Middle Township and Stone Harbor, 1939
0500-029 Upper Thorofare, Lower Township, 1939
0500-030 Mill Creek, Lower Township, 1939
0500-031 Hand Avenue over Skeeter Creek, Middle Township, 1982
County Bridges Not Identified for Major Improvement or Replacement
0500-001 Ingram’s Thorofare, Middle Township, 1967
0500-004 Roosevelt Boulevard over Crook Horn Creek, Ocean City and Upper Township, 1962
0500-007 Lafayette Street over Cape Island Creek, Cape May and Lower Township, 1927
0500-008 Avalon Canal, Avalon, 1967
0500-011 Glenwood Avenue, Wildwood and West Wildwood, 1990
0500-016 Russ Chattin over Middle Thorofare, Ocean City and Upper Township, 1990
0500-017 Scotch Bonnet, Middle Township, 1998
0500-025 Court House-South Dennis Road over Sluice Creek, Dennis and Middle Townships, 1977
0500-026 Tyler Road over Sluice Creek, Upper Township, 1997
0500-027 Elmira Street over Cape Island Creek, Cape May and West Cape May, 1985
0500-032 17th Street over Venetian-Carnival Bayou, Ocean City, 2019
Commission Bridges Identified for Major Improvements or Replacement
3100-002 Corson’s Inlet, Upper Township, 1949
3100-003 Townsend’s Inlet, Avalon and Sea Isle City, 1940
3100-005 Grassy Sound, Middle Township, 1940
3100-006 Middle Thorofare, Lower Township, 1940
Commission Bridge in Need of Additional Capital Improvements
3100-001 Ocean City-Longport, Ocean City and Egg Harbor Township, 2002