Public Weighs In On Oceanic Bridge Future

December 12, 2017
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The Oceanic Bridge linking Middletown and Rumson opens for passing boat traffic in June, as motorists pause. Photo by Jay Cook

By John Burton |

RUMSON — The Oceanic Bridge represents more than just a structure to carry one across a body of water – it is very much part of the history and fabric of the Two River area.

That’s according to many of the people who responded to the county’s invitation to give input on the idea of rehabilitating or reconstructing the aging span, or doing nothing at all.

“Why do people love this bridge? It’s unique. It’s authentically ours,” one respondent offered to county officials, striking a common cord among submitted comments.

As part of the local concept development study phase of the ongoing improvement study for the aging and deteriorating bridge, representatives from the county engineering department joined with those from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and the state Department of Transportation on June 20 to conduct two information sessions – one in the borough and the other in neighboring Middletown – concerning viable options for any future project. This is required under federal guidelines to be considered for financial support.

As part of that requirement, state and county officials have to accept comments related to the options available.

In response, officials received approximately 220 written comments for the period from June until Aug. 4. They have been posted on the county’s informational website. County officials have redacted the names and email addresses of submitted comments.

One respondent wrote officials, “I am a resident of Rumson and hope the new bridge will continue to allow bicycles, as well as fishermen. I also hope that it will be visually appealing, as the bridge today is beautiful despite its age and condition.”

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“What’s greatest about the bridge,” a 21-year Middletown resident said, in part, “is its simplicity, the architecture, and the ability to see both east and west of the bridge, without being 65 feet in the air. Its simple design and flow allow drivers and visitors of the area to experience one of the prettiest views of New Jersey, all the while soaking up the salty New Jersey air.”

Many of the comments, though not exclusively, reflected a desire to retain much of the character by constructing a new bridge that is in keeping with what’s there now, a relatively low-level, bascule drawbridge spanning the Navesink River and connecting Rumson and Middletown’s Locust section.

The existing 78-year-old bridge has been labeled at times by engineers as in “serious” to “critical” condition in its current state, with state and county officials acknowledging work has to be done to ensure public safety and transportation accessibility.

But many have voiced opposition to building a fixed-span bridge, one of the options under consideration, which could tower as much as 65 feet above the water. A fixed-span bridge would allow boats to pass under it without disrupting traffic, whether it be land vehicles, pedestrians or boats.

Some residents have said such a large structure would impact the view many area homeowners cherish and their quality of life, and possibly have a detrimental effect on property values in the upscale suburban communities.

On the other hand, there are those who think the fixed-span bridge would be a benefit, especially for summer traffic, which now queues up with frustrated drivers waiting for the existing drawbridge to close.

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“The existing bridge is outdated in design and opens too often for boats that can easily navigate under the bridge without an opening,” wrote a lifelong Rumson resident and boat owner, who argued, “We don’t need to hire bridge tenders for the next 100 years.”

The majority of comments reflect the point of view his organization has been advocating for about the last 13 years, said Locust resident Richard McOmber, vice president of the Friends of the Oceanic Bridge. That group seeks to have a new and improved bridge replicating what is there.

“The Friends of the Oceanic Bridge continue to hope that’ll be a low bascule bridge,” McOmber said.

Under consideration are options of building a new drawbridge; build a fixed-span bridge; repairing the existing structure and a handful of other variations of those proposals.

Officials are expected to select their preferred option by spring; construction isn’t anticipated for possibly another six to eight years, and would take more than two years to complete.

County officials believe the project will be paid for with state and federal transportation dollars.

The Oceanic Bridge, S-31, built in 1939, is owned and operated by the county and, at 2,752 feet, it is the county’s longest bridge. It carries an estimated 12,000-14,000 vehicles, as well as pedestrians and cyclists, daily.

This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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