The state is postponing Route 35 reconstruction until after Labor Day, a welcome relief to local officials and business people who feared that the work would cause massive traffic delays all summer.
"I'm very happy," said Bay Head Mayor Bill Curtis. "This is more than enough of a change, even if they start the day after Labor Day."
He and other local officials and business owners had also been concerned the state Department of Transportation (DOT) road work would kill parking spaces on Route 35, just as businesses are hoping a robust summer tourism season can help them recover from Superstorm Sandy.
Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Vincent Barrella had more of a mixed reaction.
"I'm pleased, but disappointed they didn't let me know," said Barrella on the phone Monday morning. "But I guess that shouldn't surprise me, since they never let us know in the first place.
Barrella, who has been lobbying the DOT for months to modify the plan which would have caused traffic to back up into Point Beach, said he was not happy to hear that he had not been included in an April 26 conference call to discuss the changes to the plan.
"I'm disappointed to hear they would hold a conference call on this issue and exclude Point Pleasant Beach," he said.
"We let officials in Bay Head and Mantoloking know because that's where the work is being done," said Joe Dee, a DOT spokesperson. "We had talked to the mayor (Barrella) about his concerns, but we let officials know in the towns where the work was being done. It was really nothing more than that."
DOT to Award Bid Soon
The DOT is moving forward with planning the 12.5 mile project to stretch from the northern end of Bay Head to Island Beach State Park.
The agency, on May 2, received bids for the first of three contracts for the job and will award the first contract soon, Dee said, adding he does not know the date the award will be made.
There is a gaping disparity among the bids which range from about $36,000 to $76,000 for the job (see attached PDF for the bid list). The state, like municipalities, is obligated by law to select the lowest responsible bidder, meaning the lowest bidder whose specifications meet all bid requirements.
The first contract will cover 3.5 miles through Bay Head and Mantoloking, the second phase will include Lavallette, Toms River and Brick and the last section will be through Seaside Heights, Seaside Park and Berkeley to Island Beach State Park.
Work will still begin in early summer, but only drainage and construction of pump stations, not any work that will not involve the intermittent closure of the lanes of Route 35.
The original plan was to begin renovating Route 35 in northern Bay Head, forcing traffic to flow in one direction only, while traffic in the opposing lane is stopped, and alternating as such.
Barrella and Curtis, for months, had voiced objections to the plan in letters, in meetings in Trenton as well as locally, including with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno when she visited Bay Head.
It had looked uncertain whether the state would modify its much-anticipated plan.
"The Bay Head to Mantoloking contract is being done first because that stretch of the highway is one storm away from not being there," Timothy Greeley, a DOT spokesperson, in an interview a couple of weeks ago. That section of the road was created by layering black top on sand and was then badly ravaged by Sandy, he noted.
"We're going to do everything we can to accommodate the residents and businesses, but the condition is serious and needs to be addressed in as timely a manner as possible." Greeley had said.
When Curtis was asked on Monday what compelled the state DOT to change its mind, he said, "Me. I've been on them. We need the on-street parking. And I think it's also because of Mayor Barrella and his original letter to the DOT that tourists would bypass Exit 98" and continue south on the parkway, if the state stuck to the original plan that would have caused heavy traffic back-ups.
Curtis said he remembered Mantoloking Mayor George Nebel also being on the call, although Nebel had no recollection of that.
"No, I wasn't on that call," said Nebel on Monday.
Nebel also said he was just finding out from the media on Monday that the state was not going to be reconstructing Route 35 in Mantoloking this summer.
"I knew they weren't going to be working on 35 in Bay Head," he said. "But I thought they were still planning to work in Mantoloking."
When asked how he felt about the change, Nebel said, "We have no business community, so we didn't care if they started in the summer or not."
Curtis said the DOT will be doing drainage work and constructing two pump stations, one on Mount Street and another on Goetze Street as well as on two side streets in Mantoloking. He said that was also part of a discussion during a "three or four hour meeting" with the DOT on April 19.
Recently, the state had contemplated starting work just south of Bay Head's business district, but then opted to postpone road work until after Labor Day.
At a recent Point Beach council meeting, Council member Bret Gordon noted that the DOT is not planning on constructing any pump stations in Point Beach.
And while meeting with Guadagno and Curtis in Bay Head, Barrella noted that the state is also not doing any road work on Route 35 in Point Beach.