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Monday, June 24, 2024


Imagine Cape May County Without Bridges 

Proposed replacement for the Cape May to Diamond Beach/Wildwood Crest bridge (Ocean Drive CR 621).

By Cape Issues

We Don’t Have To – They Are Being Replaced

In October 2020, the Cape Issues bridge subcommittee encouraged public support of the county’s Comprehensive Bridge Program, which was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in early August of that year. Since then, regular bridge program update meetings have been held, coordinated by Commissioner Will Morey, including reports on engineering, finance and management resources.

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The takeaway is that there is a plan in place to replace key bridges and protect access to and between islands. The county is working diligently to accomplish the plan in the face of various challenges, primarily government approvals and financing. Easy/safe public access, adherence to environmental protection and the various government rules associated with projects of this magnitude must guide each project. The overall cost could be up to $1 billion.

The 15-year plan is moving forward for many of the bridges, but most notably with two major projects, Ocean Drive (CR 621, between Cape May and Diamond Beach) upgrades and bridge replacements, and 96th Street bascule bridge replacement and upgrades. The 96th Street bascule bridge replacement construction is scheduled to start in 2025, with completion in 2028.

Significant preparation and improvements have been accomplished. Once pre-final plans are completed, the county will hold public meetings to discuss design and work plans, with estimated access interruptions and timings.

The Ocean Drive upgrades and bridge replacement project has already progressed through completion of the concept development process, and the alignment of the new roadway and bridges has been selected by the county and Cape May County Bridge Commission and approved by the state Department of Transportation.

The county is currently advertising a request for proposals for the preliminary engineering effort associated with that project. It is anticipated that a consultant will be selected to advance the preliminary engineering in late 2024.

The preliminary engineering effort will take approximately 36 months to complete, with the culmination an approved environmental document for the project, which will then allow it to advance to the final engineering and construction document phase. That phase will take at least 24 months to complete.

The county had secured a $1.9 million federal grant for the concept development phase of the Ocean Drive bridges (Townsend and Corson inlets, Great Channel and Grassy Sound). The estimated cost is approximately $800,000 per bridge, with the balance to be covered by county capital project funds.

Replacement of these bridges is tentatively scheduled for between 2028 and 2038, depending on permit approvals and whether there are complications with the alignments selected during the concept development process, as well as on available funding.

The county website includes a bridge-by-bridge update through 2023.

The county has successfully worked to increase its annually recurring debt service capacity over the past seven budget cycles to give itself significant borrowing power for the financial portion of the Comprehensive Bridge Program, as well as contribute to other non-direct-pay capital projects.

The county’s annually recurring debt service capacity reached approximately $35 million in 2024, a level that has been achieved ahead of schedule and is very close to the target planned seven years ago. While the county is now in a position to borrow for and fund its share of the bridge plan, federal and/or state funding will be needed to complete the plan.

With the aid of historic increases in property values and revenues to the county, the county recently passed an ordinance to directly pay for preliminary engineering for the Middle Thorofare Bridge and anticipates doing the same with final engineering.

The county is currently in a strong financial position from which to continue its progress with the comprehensive plan.

The Cape Issues Committee will continue to get regular updates from county officials to measure progress and financial impact. The results of these updates will be reported via the Herald.

There is a strong plan in place for replacement of many county bridges. The county’s financial coverage is in place, and there will be a continuing effort to obtain 50% to 70% outside funding support as each project achieves “shovel ready” status. Planning and preliminary work are continuing to achieve successful upgrades and replacement of county bridges.

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