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Monday, June 22, 2015

Reconstructing Atlantic County's Aging Bridges

Atlantic County government is responsible for 55 major bridges with spans of 20 feet or longer and 160 minor bridges of 5-20 feet. Like so many bridges across our nation, a number of county bridges are more than 50 years old and require additional attention.

In just the last few years, Atlantic County has completed reconstruction or rehabilitation of several older major bridges including the 80+-year old Dorset Avenue Bridge in Ventnor, the 73-year old Sugar Hill Bridge in Hamilton Township, the 75-year old Maple Run Bridge in Northfield, and most recently the 99-year old EH-21 bridge on Rt. 559 in Egg Harbor Township.

The county is currently working to replace the 95-year old Cedar Bridge over Patcong Creek between Northfield and Egg Harbor Township as part of the overall intersection improvement project at Fire and Mill roads in Egg Harbor Township.

"What much of the public may not realize," stated Dennis Levinson, Atlantic County Executive, "is the lengthy process involved in replacing a bridge. We receive calls to our offices asking why these projects take as long as they do. We understand their impatience with the inconvenience of infrastructure repairs and we do our best to minimize the impact on our residents and motorists. But time is required for design, fabrication of materials, permitting, testing and analysis, utility relocations and more. It is a comprehensive process with much of the work taking place out of the public eye."

The process to replace a bridge begins with the preparation of shop drawings and product submissions and reviews. Materials cannot be ordered without these approvals. Some materials are custom made or specially ordered to meet specific size and shape requirements.

Environmental restrictions must also be considered. The Cedar Bridge, for example, has an in-water work restriction of April 1 - June 30 which impacts the construction of the bridge abutments.

As we have seen in a number of construction projects temporary and permanent utility relocations often account for significant delays. Electric lines may need to be de-energized and removed, telecommunication lines moved, gas mains and water lines may also need to be reconfigured or installed.

"Unfortunately these utility relocations must be performed sequentially, not concurrently," noted Levinson.

"We have also been told that it is more cost-effective for them to make these changes while the roadway is opened for construction. While I can understand this reasoning it is nonetheless frustrating to endure these delays," he added. "And too often the county bears the brunt of the criticism for that which is out of our control."

In the case of the EH-21 bridge over English Creek, the project required two phases beginning with the demolition of the existing pony-truss bridge and construction of the approach roadway embankments. The county initially received expedited permit approvals following storm damage from Hurricane Irene, but progress was later halted by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers due to environmental concerns and by the state right-of-way acquisition process.

Adding to the duration of that project was a six-month consolidation period to allow for settlement of the soils from the additional weight of the new higher roadway embankments. Weekly monitoring took place throughout this period which had to be completed prior to the start of phase two. Phase two involved the installation of piles, construction of concrete abutments and bridge deck, retaining walls, installation of guide rails and paving of approaches.

"The good news for now is that EH-21 has been completed and the work on Cedar Bridge remains on schedule with completion set for this fall," said Levinson.

"We appreciate the cooperation of the public and our municipalities as we continue to make upgrades to our transportation infrastructure to ensure the safety and enhance the quality of life of our residents and visitors."

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