The new southbound Great Egg Harbor Bridge.

Columb Higgins

BEESLEYS POINT – A shift of northbound Garden State Parkway lanes onto the new Great Egg Harbor Bridge will leave open access for emergency vehicles to reach Cove and Harbor roads in Beesleys Point, according to local officials.

In September, officials raised concerns that concrete barriers used to redirect northbound traffic onto the new bridge would also block access to Cove Road. Fire trucks and ambulances have to use the dirt road off the Parkway in order to reach homes on Harbor Road along the bay. The emergency vehicles are too large to pass under the nearby Parkway overpass, Mayor Richard Palombo said.

Palombo said township officials met earlier this month with the state and discussed the issue. A new plan will maintain access to Cove Road off the northbound Parkway despite the lane shift, he said.

“They will be able to exit and return to the Parkway using Cove Road,” Palombo said in an interview this week. “The state was very amenable and changed the plan when we met. It was a minor change but it was important because without that we would not be able to get back there.”

Palombo said Marmora Fire Chief Jay Newman, who first raised the issue, and Upper Township Rescue Squad Chief Jay Potter have both signed off on the plan. He said concrete barriers will be installed along the Parkway to direct northbound traffic toward the new bridge, but there will be an open section for emergency vehicles to turn off the Parkway and reach Cove Road.

The lane shift is part of a plan to move northbound traffic onto the new southbound Parkway bridge while the existing northbound bridge is repaired. The old southbound bridge will also be demolished.

Committeeman Jeffrey Pierson said he also asked that an 8-inch fire line be run under the bridges to Harbor Road on the eastern side of the Parkway. That would help provide water pressure in case of a fire there, he said.

“It is a significant problem getting effective water in that area,” he said.

He asked township engineer Paul Dietrich to provide a design to the state to include in the bridge project.

Palombo said a new crossover will also be open in the median between the north- and southbound lanes of the Parkway. The crossover will be located near the base of the southbound bridge so that emergency vehicles from Marmora can travel north and use the crossover to reach the southbound lanes in case of an accident there.

In the summer, Marmora fire trucks had to back down the southbound Parkway in order to reach a car fire at the base of the bridge. Somers Point firefighters were unable to reach the scene because traffic was backed up on the bridge.

The intermittent lane closures near the Parkway bridges are expected to end sometime this week, according to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. In September, NJTA spokesperson Thomas Feeney said the lane closures were needed as workers built interim crossover to shift northbound traffic onto the new southbound bridge. The work involved grading, paving, and drainage.

The crossover was the last part of the original $130 million contract awarded to Route 52 Constructors, a joint venture of G.A. & F.C. Wagman, Inc., of York, Pa., and R.E. Pierson Construction Co., Inc., of Pilesgrove, in 2013. The NJTA awarded a separate $49.8 million contract to R.E. Pierson in July to rehabilitate the northbound Parkway bridge and demolish the old southbound span, Feeney said.

The anticipated completion date for the reconstruction of the northbound span and the demolition of the southbound span is mid-2018. While work is being done on the existing northbound bridge, northbound traffic will use the new southbound bridge. There will be two lanes of traffic in each direction until rehabilitation of the northbound span is complete in 2018, Feeney said.

Once that work is complete, there will be two southbound lanes on the new bridge and two northbound lanes on the rehabilitated bridge, he said. There will also be a shoulder lane and a pedestrian/bike path on the new bridge.

Demolition of the old Beesleys Point Bridge is also included in the original contract. The drawbridge section of the former private toll bridge still stands, but most of the bridge and its pilings have been removed.

Construction began on the southbound Parkway bridge in September of 2013, and it was opened to traffic in August. The southbound bridge was built in 1955. Its northbound neighbor was built in 1973.