Residents, officials favor keeping Longport bridge open during repairs

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The John F. Kennedy bridge is expected have one lane of traffic open during construction in the offseason. The John F. Kennedy bridge is expected have one lane of traffic open during construction in the offseason.

LONGPORT – The majority of residents and officials told Atlantic County Freeholders that they want access to the John F. Kennedy Bridge while the rehabilitation proceeds. 

The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders brought its meeting to Longport Borough Hall Tuesday, Feb. 5 to hear from residents and municipal officials about the proposed first phase of work to repair the 50-year-old span that links the borough to Egg Harbor Township. The two choices that had been discussed were having one lane of alternating traffic open during the construction or to close the span and allow contractors to complete the work in a shorter time frame. 

Engineer Brian Strizki with the firm Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson which is consulting the county on the project, led a slideshow presentation outlining the problems that need to be addressed on the bridge.

“This is a very interesting project with a lot of challenges and a lot of work that needs to be done,” Strizki said. “It’s a unique bridge that has a lot of different elements you generally don’t see used in a single span.”

Built in 1963, the bridge is 28 feet wide and has 25 spans and is 1,320 feet long, making it the longest county bridge in Atlantic County, according to county engineer Joe D’Abundo.

Work needed is extensive

Strizki detailed the work, which includes repairing the concrete bridge deck and overlying it with a waterproof epoxy slurry system, installing new deck joints, repairing structural steel members in the main span of the bridge, blast cleaning and painting the steel main span, replacing damaged and tilted bridge bearings, repairing deteriorated timber and steel jacked piles, repairing and restoring the load capacity of deteriorated concrete beams, and applying a penetrating sealer treatment to all concrete bridge elements.

He said repairing the deck joints, which are the metal links that run across the width of the span and prevent water from reaching the substructure, will take the longest to repair.

Strizki showed pictures of rusted strands in the steel beams under the bridge that reduce its load capacity. He said the bridge currently does not have a weight limit, but if the work is not performed, a weight limit would be necessary.

“The fact is we can't ignore these items. In a salted environment, things start happening quickly and if we don't address it immediately we start with weight limits on the bridge,” D’Abundo stressed.

HeD’Abundo said the work is expected to extend the lifetime of the bridge by 25 years. At that point, the bridge would be 85 years old and would most likely need to be replaced.

“Right now, this is one of the piles that no longer has any capacity,” Strizki said, showing a photo of a clearly deteriorated pile with only a fraction of its circumference remaining. “That was supposed to be repaired in the next contract, but we have to have repairs now because of the deterioration.”

Access to medical and emergency services

Most, if not all, of the people who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting in the very crowded commission chambers said they prefer keeping one lane open during the work.
If the bridge were closed, D’Abundo said, the detour down Shore Road and onto the Black Horse Pike would be approximately 18 miles; using the Downbeach Express toll bridge, the detour would be 12 miles.

Under the plan that would keep at least one lane of the bridge open at all times, traffic flow would be alternating Monday through Thursday from Labor Day to Memorial Day, and both lanes would be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the off-season and seven days a week during the summer.

Rick Pitman, representing Shore Medical Center, said it was important to keep one lane open so emergency personnel have access to the emergency room at the Somers Point hospital.

Longport Fire Chief Levon “Lefty” Clayton said that mutual aid for first responders between the borough and its adjacent communities would have to change if the bridge were closed. He added that, from personal experience, most island residents do their shopping and have doctors in Somers Point.

“My concern is, most of the residents of Longport utilize Shore,” Clayton said. “And a lot of the physicians are on the mainland.”

Longport Borough Commissioner Dan Lawler said residents have told him they need to use the bridge, and they don’t want it closed. Mostly, everyone agreed.

“I personally feel the alternate route would be the best way to go,” Somers Point Mayor John L. “Jack” Glasser said.

Margate Mayor Mike Becker agreed, saying, “I think it would be better for our residents and our businesses.”

Margate Police Chief David Wolfson said cars backed up onto Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township when the evacuation order was lifted after Hurricane Sandy, and he feared the same type of backup getting off the island if the bridge is closed.

Egg Harbor Township Police Chief Michael Morris said he, too, is supportive of alternative traffic.

“I’m very glad to hear you’re going to open it up during the summer season. That was our greatest concern,” Morris said.

While work is done under the bridge, Strizki said the height limit for sea vessels would have to be reduced from 25 feet to 20 feet at the main span because of the encapsulated painting system that will be used.

Due to the height and the curve of the bridge, D’Abundo said flagmen with radios would need to be stationed on each side of the bridge to allow for alternating traffic. Sheriff Frank Balles suggested someone also stand at the crest of the bridge with a radio as an extra safety precaution.

Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica said the decision ultimately lies with County Executive Dennis Levinson with the consent of the five municipalities most directly affected: Ventnor, Margate, Longport, Egg Harbor Township and Somers Point.

To end the meeting, he asked the audience to indicate their preference for full closure or partial closure by a show of hands, and no one appeared to raise a hand for full closure during construction.

See here for the proposed work schedule of the bridge. 

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