By Elaine Van Develde
“The cul-de-sac is no longer an option,” a Monmouth County project coordinator could be heard telling Rumson residents about a hotly contested proposed cul-de-sac on Ward Avenue that was to be an option for intersection improvements that are to come with the 2020 Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge replacement. “People were strongly opposed to the concept, so it has been eliminated.”
It’s one component of what was revealed about conceptual plans at a public information forum on the estimated $60-million federally-funded bridge project at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Wednesday night. Another was held earlier in Sea Bright.
The 66-year-old historic drawbridge, deemed in serious condition a few years ago, is slated for replacement with a similar structure spanning the Shrewsbury River to the south of the original bridge. Though nothing is set in concrete and steel yet, county officials cautioned, it’s a definite that the existing bridge will remain functional as the new one is built parallel to it, significantly minimizing if not eliminating the need for detours during construction.
And, after roughly 10 concepts were originally floated and initial public input, a couple of roadway/intersection improvement options for the Sea Bright and Rumson riverbanks remain the most viable in accommodating the southerly new bridge construction.
In Sea Bright, county officials said that residents are amenable to the idea of the bridge funneling traffic onto at least a portion of where the Dunkin’ Donuts now stands.
While no acquisition of the spot has yet been approved or planned, Sea Bright officials have said they would gladly find another location for the franchise in town, if there is an acquisition of the swath.
“We’re not in the right-of-way acquisition phase right now, though,” project coordinator Inkyung Engelhart said. “Right now, we’re looking at acquisition impacts.” In addition to the Dunkin’ property, the plat where the Sunoco gas station once stood is proposed to house parking to replace what would be lost to the north of the Dunkin’ building.
On the Rumson side, with the idea of a cul-de-sac at Ward Avenue to lop off one leg of the five-way intersection nixed, an option under consideration is to make Old Rumson Road (one of the five legs), next to the park at West Park, a two-way street, which officials said would make it easier to make a left onto South Ward.
Another route would be to leave Old Rumson Road a one-way and allow left turns from Rumson Road onto Ward and South Ward from either direction, Engelhart said.
Whichever, the park at West Park that sits on the southern Rumson side of the bridge will have to be cut off a bit and turned into a more definitive triangle, which enables all options and is inescapable considering the realignment.
Nothing has been decided regarding the possibility of a traffic light at what is to remain the five-way intersection.
The next phases for the project’s ultimate design approval, which are slated to take another three years, are the right-of-way acquisition proposals and environmental assessment for permitting. Once final design is approved by all entities and submitted to the Federal Highway Authority, the project is slated to begin construction in 2020 and last three years. It was originally anticipated by county officials that the construction phase would begin this year.
The drawbridge’s original design is likely to be replicated, as the original is a historic structure and eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore said at the initial stakeholder forum on the project.
The new bridge will have walking paths, islands and other aesthetic amenities.
The bridge, on Monmouth County’s Route 520, takes on average traffic of up to 15,000 vehicles a day, Ettore had said. While it has been deemed in serious condition, it is still capable of accommodating emergency vehicles.
The goal now is to air all options with as much public input as possible to ensure that an amenable, viable design plan will be approved at the state level to make federal funding for construction a shoo-in.
People who could not attend the public forums are invited to write in comments to the county.