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Friday, April 19, 2024

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$250M Middle Thorofare Bridge, Road Project Advancing

Christopher South
The Middle Thorofare Bridge between Cape May and Wildwood Crest would be replaced as part of a project scheduled to go out to design bid this summer.

By Christopher South

Replacement of the Middle Thorofare Bridge, the toll drawbridge that stands between Cape May and Wildwood Crest, is the centerpiece of a project estimated at $250 million by Cape May County Engineer Robert Church and scheduled to go out for design bids this summer.

Church, who recently updated the county Board of Commissioners on the long-considered project, said the Ocean Drive Upgrades and Bridge Improvements project would begin at the base of the Garden State Parkway and end at Madison Avenue in the Diamond Beach section of Lower Township, about 2.7 miles.

The project includes two low-level bridges – the Mill Creek Bridge and the Upper Thorofare Bridge — as well as the Middle Thorofare Bridge, which now opens for fishing boats and tall-masted sailboats. It will also include road reconstruction at the 5-foot culvert near Two Mile Landing. Essentially, the existing roadway will be elevated 4 feet, to bring it above base flood elevation, Church said.

“It will be the biggest project in Cape May County,” said Church, who provided the $250 million estimate. “Probably even state project.”

Other county officials have said that the cost of the project might be significantly higher.

Replacement of the 85-year-old Middle Thorofare Bridge has been talked about for at least a decade, beginning well before Church was named county engineer in 2018. But he has been on staff for 27 years and worked under previous county Engineer Dale Foster.

The engineer said that in 2018 the county did a concept development study to see what alternatives it had for the project, and since then sought requests for proposal to get the project underway. The county came up with nine different alternatives, considering input from stakeholders, municipal officials and regulatory authorities, from which to make its choices.

Asked about the preferences of regulatory agencies, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, Church said, “None of the authorities wanted anything. Everything had impact.”

The proposal for the Middle Thorofare Bridge replacement is to construct a fixed bridge stretching 2,700 feet. The bridge would be 80 feet high and have a horizonal clearance of 80 feet, he said.

Church said the county would potentially be partnering with the state, with the hope of receiving federal funding.

Cape May County Engineer Robert Church addressing the county commissioners on the Ocean Drive Upgrades and Bridge Improvements project, which includes replacing the Middle Thorofare Bridge.

“This is potentially a state project. We’re trying to get partners on it, and there is a possibility of federal funds, but just how much we are going to get is unknown,” Church said.

The county is funding the design using county funds to expedite the project, he said, adding that when a contract document and permit approvals are done the county can look for other sources of funding.

“The Middle Thorofare Bridge is just in poor condition and needed to get underway,” the engineer said.

The engineering design for the project is going out for bid in July, with the county hoping to award a contract in October, he said. The preliminary engineering design will take about three years; the final design will take about two years, he said.

Church said the county had a consultant do aerial photos so they could determine the alignment and specifications of what a proposed bridge would look like. The county also received public input for a preliminary design. He said the county looked at a cable stay bridge and also considered a bridge that would allow cruise ships to pass under.

“That really drove the cost up,” he said. “It will be a more conventional bridge.”

Church said the Middle Thorofare Bridge would have an S-configuration because the county was not able to land the bridge in the area proposed 10 to 15 years ago, which now belongs to the Division of Fish & Wildlife. He said he anticipates pushback from special interests, but one of the purposes of the bridge project is an evacuation route that leads to the parkway.

Thoughts? Questions? Call Christopher South at 609-886-8600 x-128 or email csouth@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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