By BRIAN IANIERI, Press of A.C. Staff Writer | Thurs., September 23, 2010
OCEAN CITY — The construction cranes rise high over the Route 52 causeway, joining the sections of a new concrete bridge that has been rising above the old Ninth Street Bridge.
The massive $400 million causeway project is in the midst of an aggressive phase of work. A new span is being built over the Intracoastal Waterway, alongside the existing drawbridge, which gradually will be dismantled.
Traffic will be shifted to the new bridge by next summer, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Frances McCrory said.
“The new bridge has to be in the same footprint as the old bridge, so they have to take it down piecemeal,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Coast Guard temporarily shut down the Intracoastal Waterway in the area, implementing a safety zone that will last until Friday night and then be in place again from Sept. 27 to 30 at the latest.
The ongoing work has created some hassles, from traffic delays and backups for motorists to inconveniences for boaters.
While the Intracoastal Waterway is closed, boaters have to navigate around the area, which can mean having to leave and return at high tides to avoid sand bars, said John Grzymko of Fin-Atics Marine Supply in Ocean City.
“It’s going to be a mild inconvenience,” he said. “It’s not at the point in time where there’s a lot of boaters now.”
Traffic backups tend to be most pronounced on weekends, particularly when special events such as the recent Aviation Weekend draw people to town, Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster said.
The Route 52 causeway between Ocean City and Somers Point is in the second phase of construction, which costs $251 million.
Work includes eliminating the drawbridges on the causeway to replace them with fixed-span bridges, which are much taller but do not have to open and close. The project also involves pedestrian sidewalks, fishing piers and a new Ocean City visitors center. Work is scheduled to finish in 2012.
The first phase, which cost $145 million, started in 2006 and ended last year.
The work is partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Although the Route 52 causeway work is the largest project, federal stimulus money is also being used on several other Cape May County bridge projects.
The Townsends Inlet and Grassy Sound bridges are seeing $4.8 million in federally funded work to repaint the spans and restore their rails, Cape May County Administrator Stephen O’Connor said.
Work has started on both bridges. The Townsends Inlet Bridge, which connects Sea Isle City and Avalon, will be closed to vehicle traffic in the beginning of October and will remain closed for as long as six weeks, O’Connor said.