There may be a way to rebuild the bridge on Route 88 over the Beaver Dam Creek without closing the eastbound lane, said a state Department of Transportation official on Wednesday.
At the urging of Brick councilman-elect James Fozman, Ahmad Qureshi, DOT project manager, said the state agency may be able to take apart the existing bridge and build a new one without closing the eastbound lane for part of the 9 to 12 months that work is ongoing.
The current proposal is for the eastbound lane of Route 88 on the bridge to be closed for at least part of the time the bridge is being rebuilt.
The was discussed at a DOT Public Information Center at the Brick Township Municipal Building on Chambersbridge Road from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.
A handful of Brick and Point Borough officials and business owners attended and asked questions, but, in general, the meeting was sparsely attended.
The DOT distributed copies of a graphic showing how the new bridge will be wider, although it will still be one lane in each direction, and a map of a detour that would be used if the eastbound lane is closed during part of the work.
See the attachment for both images or view them on the DOT website by scrolling down to the link for the Brick meeting, clicking on that and then accessing the PDF.
The project is expected to begin in 2014 or 2015, with $500,000 already allocated for design work. The DOT will not know how much the overall project will cost until there is further engineering and design work and the contract is bid, said Tim Greeley, a DOT spokesman.
"To construct this project as quickly as possible and to minimize the environmental impact, NJDOT is proposing a detour for Route 88 traffic eastbound, while the bridge is being completed," the DOT's hand-out says.
The signed detour will direct motorists to Van Zile Road to Route 70 eastbound to Burnt Tavern Road and then back to Route 88, according to the DOT.
"Route 88 westbound will be maintained through the work zone during construction," the DOT said.
Fozman suggested that while half the bridge is being rebuilt, the DOT use the 8 foot shoulder section of the opposite side as the westbound lane and use the adjacent 11 foot lane for eastbound traffic, and then put in the sidewalks last. The DOT is planning to install sidewalks on both sides of the bridge.
Qureshi said that might be possible, but it's hard to know for sure since the concept still has to go through a preliminary engineering phase and then a design phase.
The project also needs several state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permits since the work will involve digging abutments out of wetlands and disturbing the creek bed, which is a habitat for various species, Qureshi said.
The bridge is structurally deficient, with chunks of concrete falling off and steel rusting, and needs to be rebuilt or it eventually won't be safe, Qureshi said. He added that it's hard to tell when it might deteriorate to that perilous state, Qureshi said.
Point Borough Councilman John McHugh Jr., the council liaison to the Point Pleasant Chamber of Commerce, agreed the work has to be done.
However, he said that closing the eastbound lane will have a devastating impact on Point businesses. He asked Qureshi to strongly consider a method of rebuilding the bridge without any lane closure.
"The businesses in Point Pleasant on Route 88 and Bridge Avenue are almost all mom and pop stores," McHugh told him. "They're the ones least able to sustain themselves through something like this.
"There's always a way to do it without closing a lane," he said. "You've fixed other bridges without having to do this. It can be done."
"Money is tight," Qureshi told McHugh, referring to how the DOT has tried to come up with the most cost-efficient plan.
"And money is tight for the businesses in that area," McHugh replied.
McHugh said the detour sending motorists up to Route 70 will likely mean some of them never make it back down to Point Borough and Point Beach, thereby negatively impacting those businesses.
"My concern is that once they get onto 70, they won't come back to Point, they'll just keep going," said McHugh, owner of Remax Bay Point on Bay Avenue in Point Beach.
McHugh chose not to run for reelection to council so he will be out of office at the beginning of January. However, he said, he wanted to come to the meeting to represent council and the chamber. He will be a director of the chamber next year.
Point Chamber Executive Director Eileen McCabe also attended the meeting.
McHugh said it's important that local business owners realize that they can still write to the DOT to express their concerns and any ideas they may have for the plan to have minimal impact on businesses.
Brick Police Captain John Rein attended the beginning of the public forum to ask questions about the detour, traffic flow and how long the eastbound lane would be closed.
Rein said the police department will educate the public in advance about where and when the work is taking place, where the detour will be (if the proposal stays intact), and make sure traffic flow is monitored so there is the least amount of negative impact.
He said he does not want the public using Princeton Avenue as a detour.
Brick Police Chief Chief Nils R. Bergquist said he does not want motorists cutting onto Burnt Bridge Road or other streets leading into Bay Bridge Village, which is north of Route 88 and west of Burnt Tavern Road.
"We'll look at the impact on neighborhoods and discuss this more at pre-construction meetings," he said.
Qureshi said he's confident the bridge is still safe, adding that if the DOT thought otherwise, it would take steps such as prohibiting trucks beyond a certain weight from using it.
Greeley said the project is being planned now because it is on a list of structurally-deficient bridges and its time has come. He said each troubled bridge is given a rating, which is used to prioritize the list of bridges in need of repairs, maintenance or rebuilding and the DOT has been working down the list.
Denise Peck of the DOT's Office of Community Relations, said anyone wishing to make comments on the plan should contact her within the next few weeks since design and engineering work is moving forward.
For further information or to express concerns, contact Peck, Office of Community Relations, NJ Department of Transportation, PO Box 600, Trenton, NJ 08625-0600; (609) 530-2110; Denise.firstname.lastname@example.org.