Bridge Project Causes Problems for Some LBI Businesses

Jun 13, 2018

There are certain things that come with living or choosing to spend summer vacation, at least a piece of it, on a sandbar “6 miles at sea”: traffic. Trying to get on and off Long Beach Island after Memorial Day weekend without hitting backups is risky. Sometimes, you win and sometimes you lose. Toss in temporary daytime lane closures to address the decaying of slopes near the west trestle bridge and the odds are against a quick trip to the mainland.

The temporary daytime lane closures, according to the state Department of Transportation, are necessary so the contractor can perform emergency work to shore up slopes near the west abutment of the West Thorofare Bridge, one of three trestle bridges that connect Stafford Township to LBI. The work requires the contractor to drive metal sheets into the floor of the bay. The westbound right lane is expected to be closed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. through the evening of Thursday, June 14 and again next week from Monday, June 18 through Thursday, June 21. Traffic flowing off the Island will be able to use the left lane during that time.

“The traffic does move,” Lori A. Pepenella, chief executive officer of the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce, said. “We would rather have the bridge secure. Safety is the most important thing.”

State officials said spring storms accelerated the deterioration to a point the integrity of the roadway shoulder and guardrail was jeopardized. The decay is at the west abutment of the West Thorofare Bridge. Severe erosion from stormwater runoff is washing soil from under the shoulder and around the guardrail, necessitating some $500,000 in emergency work.

“It’s (traffic) not alien to us in the summer,” Pepenella said, adding the traffic from a lane closure isn’t specific to the LBI region. “There are other Jersey Shore areas where bridge work is being done.”

Pepenella said the area is gearing up to have another “incredible” summer and she doesn’t foresee the emergency temporary daytime lane closures on the Causeway impacting business or the experience of summer visitors.

Kevin Bergin, president of the Long Beach Island Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t disagree more.

“The big concern for our members is staffing,” he said recently, noting many of the Island’s small businesses rely on workers from the mainland. An accident or other incident on the Causeway with one lane already closed is likely to lead to a lengthy traffic snarl in both directions. “This is an undue stress on them and a little irresponsible on the state’s part.”

If service is hampered because of a lack of workers, Bergin said, there is going to be backlash for the businesses.

“When this started,” he said, “they (state officials) said there would be no daytime lane closures during the summer. This isn’t smart. It’s not helping LBI, tourism or local businesses.”

The work has already cost at least one local business revenue and customers.

“It was worse last year,” Marci Chapman, bookkeeper at Causeway Boat Rentals and Marina in Manahawkin, said not long after the first day of temporary lane closures began. “We’ve lost customers and it’s definitely affected us financially.”

Chapman said the traffic pattern changes had a role in people just not wanting to be bothered going to her family’s business. Her father, she said, had to fight the state not to close the U-turn, which would have harmed the business further.

“Most people call (to see if we’re open),” she said. “It’s the best thing for them to do. This way I can tell them how to get to us. Every day there seems to be a new traffic pattern. It definitely has been crazy.”

Still, Chapman said the contractors on the scene have been good neighbors, letting the marina know when certain work is going to be done or if a planned traffic shift is going to occur. Officially, the contractors are required to send certified letters about the phase of the project to Chapman and her family because of their proximity to the work area.

Causeway Boat Rentals and Marina is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

— Gina G. Scala


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