Happy Day: The Oceanic Bridge Opens
Officials and residents gathered for the opening ceremony on the bridge
It was a beautiful day for a bridge re-opening.
After seven months of repair work and a gathering, replete with speeches and ribbon cutting, the historic Oceanic Bridge did something this morning it hasn’t done all those months — it opened, to many smiles, sighs of relief and gasps of amazement at the sight so close up.
Officials, dignitaries and residents of both Rumson and Middletown stood right at the foot of the revamped 98-foot moveable portion as horns sounded and each side of the freshly painted green drawbridge rose, marking the official opening of the span to traffic.
“Wow,” Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl said. “After all these years, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it open so close-up. This is a first for me. And, I also got to go into the gatekeeper’s quarters. I’d never been in that either.”
The re-opening of the bridge signaled a happy day for many. Ekdahl said it was a relief to see it open, as inconvenienced shoppers and commuters were frequenting Rumson and Fair Haven businesses less often, causing what he said was about a 30 percent drop in business for the towns, especially Rumson. At first, he said, business owners were seeing only about a 10 percent drop.
“It was nice, peaceful and very quiet for a little while there,” Ekdahl joked as he addressed the group gathered for the re-opening. “I didn’t have to wait in line at Brennan’s for a sandwich. But, honestly, for the past couple of months, it has really been very hard on businesses.”
The bridge closing, since October, had also become a worn inconvenience for ferry commuters, the mayor said, as they could no longer cut across the bridge and over to Highlands or Middletown (for the SeaStreak or Belford services), which only took a few minutes. Instead they had to travel around and through Sea Bright, adding several more minutes to their morning drive.
Middletown Mayor Tony Fiore experienced a first as well, as he told everyone he, for the first time, walked the bridge, unintentionally, from the Middletown side. “I missed the memo on that,” he said, as everyone else gathered from the Rumson side. “I got there and they told me I was on the wrong side. So, I just parked the car and walked it. It was nice, though, to experience firsthand what people who use this bridge for recreational purposes experience. I know it’s safe, because I just crossed it on foot.”
Fiore said that Middletown residents are thrilled at the re-opening, since the bridge closing takes people who are traveling to and from, especially, the Navesink, Locust and Bayshore sections of Middletown to their destinations in less than 10 minutes. In the case of Navesink and Locust, from the Rumson side, it takes probably one or two minutes.
Both mayors added that they were happy all negative, unfounded rumors, misleading people to believe the bridge wasn't opening until anywhere from after the summer was over until a year or so, were put to rest today. Both were frequently stopped on the street and/or called by anxious residents who wanted answers they couldn't give them.
In Fiore's speech, he commented that the bridge re-opening in record time and under budget marked a “very proud day, not just for us (Middletown people), but for the entire region.”
The bridge revamp was slated to cost an estimated $8 million and ended up coming in at $3.5 million with a construction phase being reduced from 18 to seven months, Freeholder Tom Arnone said.
More than 7,500 pounds of rust was removed from the north leaf of the bridge, east of the bascule (moveable) span, he added. That’s the weight of a small SUV, Arnone said. In addition to the corrosion removal, the catwalks were repaired, as were stringers, the grid deck and mechanical and electrical systems. The bridge is now posted to handle 15 tons of weight crossing it, Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore said. Before the repairs, it could only handle 3 tons. “School and emergency vehicles can now cross it,” he said.
The repairs will last 20 to 30 years, Ettore added.
The goal, he added, is to accelerate decisions on alternatives analysis by September so that the design analysis can be completed by December (or the end of the year). After that, Ettore said, the final design phase should take about two years and construction about three, for a total of five. However, he was careful to say it could take up to 10 years. Nonetheless, he added, with the completed bascule span repairs, the bridge will be secure for those estimated 20 to 30 years.
The general consensus from both Rumson and Middletown is that people overwhelmingly favor a permanent replacement that is consistent with the same style as the 1940s art deco original, keeping the drawbridge component.
Freeholder Director John Curley said that the county is committed to honoring that request and “protecting the beauty of this region. Monmouth County will remain THE place to live.”
Officials joked that activist and Fair Havenite Todd Thompson — who has rallied troops in a grassroots group Friends of the Oceanic Bridge to maintain the historical integrity of the drawbridge in its revamp and ultimate replacement — probably slept on the bridge in a sleeping bag in anticipation of the opening of “the largest moveable bridge in Monmouth County,” as Arnone said.
“It’s a happy day!” state Senator Joseph Kyrillos said.
* Stay tuned! Patch will soon feature a video on the event. In the meantime check out the photos above. Just click on them and flip through.