Mother Nature may be slow to catch on, but spring has arrived in the Long Beach Island region, and the change in the traffic pattern on the Causeway to the 18-mile sandbar is all the proof anyone living, working or visiting here needs. George Harms Construction Co., the state Department of Transportation’s contractor, shifted traffic to the newly reconstructed portion of the Hilliards Thorofare Bridge, which typically travels away from the Island, over the holiday weekend.
“The new traffic pattern will temporarily return Route 72 to two lanes in each direction through the work zone for the 2018 summer season,” Dan Triana, DOT public information officer, said. “The shift will allow for limited summertime construction on the center median, which will not affect traffic.”
He said work on the shoulders and the reconstruction of the southern portion of the bridge, which normally handles Route 72 eastbound traffic, are expected to begin in the fall. Limited overnight lane closures are allowed and are to be expected.
Work on the $350 million Route 72/Manahawkin Bay Bridge project was started in 2013 and is expected to continue through 2021. The 3-mile-long Causeway links Stafford Township on the mainland with Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island.
As part of the project, a new bridge has been constructed parallel to the existing one over Manahawkin Bay, providing the safety of a redundant route on or off the island. The new bridge is 2,400 feet long with a vertical clearance of 55 feet over Manahawkin Bay. It currently has two lanes in each direction while the original Causeway Bridge is being rehabilitated. Ultimately, it will function as the bridge for eastbound traffic once the project is completed, with the rehabilitated original bridge carrying westbound traffic. The precise timing of the work is subject to change due to weather or other factors. Motorists are encouraged to check NJDOT’s traffic information website 511nj.org for construction updates and real-time travel information; for NJDOT news, follow on Twitter @NJDOT_info.
The project, under contract five, also includes the environmental mitigation of approximately seven acres on Cedar Bonnet Island locally known as Bonnet Island, Triana said. One acre is wetlands, two acres are intertidal/subtidal shallows, and more than three acres consist of riparian buffer vegetation, he said.
“Included in the department’s environmental mitigation project is a 1-mile walking path with pedestrian benches, two gazebo overlooks with picnic tables and interpretive signs located along the path,” he said. “The path will provide views of Atlantic City, the Manahawkin Bay bridges, LBI, and coastal marshes.”
A small parking lot was also constructed adjacent to Cedar Bonnet Island along Route 72 eastbound that provides a sidewalk leading up the walking path. The island is part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, located between the bay bridge and the thorofare bridges on Route 72 eastbound. The property was acquired in the 1990s by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has not been opened for public use since, according to Triana.
The DOT worked closely with the USFWS and other stakeholders on the mitigation work on Cedar Bonnet Island, which began in February 2015 and includes wetland creation, mitigation for freshwater wetlands, modification of two existing stormwater basins within the Barnegat Bay watershed and public access improvements.
“Contract 5 is expected to be completed this spring,” Triana said, noting the refuge land is owned by the USFWS Edwin B. Forsythe Division and remains closed to the general public until an official opening date can be announced.
— Gina G. Scala The Sandpaper