Two-Mile Bridge is showing its age, but no money for an update

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

  bridge  

LOWER TOWNSHIP —The bridge connecting Cape May and Wildwood Crest was opened in the 1940s and is showing its age, but any plans to update the aging bridge have been put on hold indefinitely.

“Aging bridges aren’t just a problem here,” Linda Gilles, the interim executive director of the Cape May County Bridge Commission. “The bridge infrastructure across the country is in bad shape but there is little that can be done about it because the money just isn’t there.”

The Middle Thorofare Bridge, also called Two Mile Bridge, is one of the county’s oldest bridges. Gilles said that while Two Mile Bridge remains safe for regular vehicles to cross, it can’t accommodate large vehicles, like fire trucks.

“It was built at a time when bridges were lower and vehicles crossing it were smaller,” said Gilles.

The bridge was built to hold a 17.5 ton truck, about the size of a delivery truck, but over the years corrosion caused the weight limit to be lowered to 15 tons. The bridge accommodates two lanes at a total of 20 feet wide.

“They keep building fire trucks and emergency vehicles bigger and bigger,” said Gilles.

Fire trucks from the Erma Fire Station responding to an emergency in Lower Township’s Diamond Beach have to travel over the George Redding Bridge into Wildwood instead of taking the more direct route because of the bridge’s weight limit.

The height of the single leaf drawbridge is also an issue because it has to be frequently opened for boaters causing traffic to back up, especially in the summer, said Gilles.

The bridge location is part of the Intercoastal Waterway, crossing Middle Thorofare, which connects Cape May Inlet to Jarvis Sound. On the north side of the bridge is one of the busiest fishing docks on the East Coast, she said, which means the big fishing trawlers need to request the draw bridge be raised to get to the open ocean.

“The whole fishing industry down there depends on us,” she said.

Gilles said the boats on the waterway have the right of way.

“We can’t tell them [boaters] to wait and that means that unfortunately traffic gets backed up. In the summer the traffic backup can get really bad. The boats try to do what they can, they try to group together so there isn’t a lineup, but the bridge can’t open for the boats on a schedule,” she said.

“We’d love to have a bridge that we wouldn’t have to open constantly,” Gilles said.

The boat passage span under the bridge is 50 feet wide. New bridges require a minimum of 150 feet for a new boat passage, according to the Coast Guard.

Almost a decade ago, the county entered planning stages for a new replacement bridge that would be more than a mile long and have a fixed span. At the time, the proposed bridge would have become the highest in the county, at 108 feet which was almost twice as high as the Ocean City-Longport bridge, which is 65 feet high.

The plans for a new bridge over Middle Thorofare had stretched to a potential cost of $250 million. A total of approximately $1.1 million was spent on the conceptual phase before the idea was abandoned. The costs were beyond what county is likely to obtain in the present economy, Gilles said.

“When the bottom fell out of the economy, there was no way that the project could move forward,” she said. “And even before that we were constantly being held up with environmental issues.”

The bridge is next to two nature centers.

Gilles said that while the commission that she heads has operational responsibility for the county’s five toll bridges the county is responsible for providing infrastructure and capital improvements.

Gilles said she is hopeful that funding for bridge replacement can eventually be found and said that most officials agree that the county’s older toll booths need to be replaced.

But even if new, more affordable plans are drawn up it takes about eight to 10 years from the initial planning steps to the beginning of construction of a new bridge, she said. Even with a design in place, she added, there is a lot of red tape to go through before the county can start work on a new bridge.

The most recent county toll bridge to be replaced took close to a decade from conceptual design to when the first car rolled across.

The Ocean City-Longport bridge was rebuilt in a multimillion-dollar project completed in 2002, the only one of the county Bridge Commission spans to be replaced since they were built with “New Deal” money decades ago.

Formed in the 1930s, the bridge commission launched the construction of the county’s toll bridges with $1.6 million from the federal government, about what it costs to paint one of the bridges today. According to information from the commission, the Middle Thorofare bridge and smaller T-beam bridges over Mill Creek and Upper Thorofare were opened in 1940, the first of the commission’s bridges.

Ocean City has seen a more recent bridge project, with the completion of the Route 523 Causeway connecting that city and Somers Point. The project replaced a drawbridge and other spans, at a total cost of more than $500 million, mostly in federal and state money.

Lauren Suit can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at shorenewstoday.com.

bridge

 

bridge


blog comments powered by Disqus