Closed Bridge Puts Jersey Shore At Risk
UPPER TOWNSHIP, CAPE MAY COUNTY, NEW JERSEY - September 12, 2006 -- Forecasters say a tropical storm will strike South Jersey someday. What if one was heading up the Atlantic Coast? Would an orderly evacuation take place? Not without the Beesley's Point Bridge, local officials say.
The bridge was closed in June of 2004, because of problems with a piling. Engineers found even more structural deficiencies, and closed it permanently. More than two years later, and in the midst of the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season, lawmakers in Cape May County are becoming very nervous.
Here is a transcript of the Action News Special Report:
Let's say a severe storm is heading up the atlantic coast. Everyone along the Jersey Shore needs to get out, fast.
One problem: one of three major escape routes is blocked. The Beesley's Point Bridge, which leads Route 9 out of Cape May County, has been closed for more than two years. In an evacuation, motorists would be funneled to the Garden State Parkway, or to a number of much smaller roads not suited for heavy traffic.
(Matt) Ernesto was the latest big storm to hit the Jersey Shore. What if it was a hurricane. Would the nearly 1 million people vacationing in Cape May County be able to escape? Some say no, as long as this bridge is closed.
(Mayor Rich Palombo, Upper Township, New Jersey) I wouldn't really begin to think what we'd do...I really can't imagine what we'd do.
The blockades went up on the Upper Township and Somer's Point sides of the bridge in June of 2004. It is 78 years old, and in disrepair. Action News examined the structure from above.
Pieces of its deck are falling into the Great Egg Harbor Bay. We also took a closer look from the water.
Pilings are corroding, covered with rust. Clearly, it needs a lot of work.
(Marcie Eckerson, resident of Marmora, New Jersey) It's an emergency route...quickest route to the hospital is what it is.
(Another resident) This was the main way down to cape may county...and now they just have the parkway.
So why isn't it fixed, if its closure poses a risk? The Beesley's Point Bridge is privately owned by a group of investors, including Atlantic City attorney Steve Hankin. Both he, and the group's spokesman, would not comment for this story. In 1997, the state gave the owners nearly one million dollars to make improvements, provided they keep the bridge open until 2016. Seven years into the deal, the owners broke their promise, when they realized repairs would cost so much more.
(Matt) You blame the owner of the bridge? (Marcie Eckerson, resident of Marmora, New Jersey) ...couldn't maintain it.
If the state bought the birdge, it would be subjected to higher standards, and cost more to repair. So it sits and rots. The owners still pay a man to operate the drawbridge for large boats passing through, even though a car hasn't driven across in 27 months.
(Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, Democrat, Cape May County) This is a county that is...tropical storm and a hurricane.
The state will soon begin a 220 thousand dollar engineering study. But one official says the chances of it reopening by next Memorial Day, and the start of the next hurricane season, is only 50/50.
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