By MARY WALTON
It’s not your imagination, people.
The venerable old Shark River Bridge on Ocean Avenue between Avon and Belmar has been more than three times slower than usual for the past couple weeks. As the buzzer sounds, red lights flash on, and cars and pedestrians clump behind the lowered crossing gates, the bridge creeps upward like an old timer with a bad hip.
Constructed in 1936, it’s no youngster. And it, too, has had a bad part.
But here’s the good news. Laura Kirkpatrick, Monmouth County director of public information, said the part arrived Monday and installation should be completed by week’s end.
The faulty part disabled the main drive that powers the bridge, which has been operating on one of its three backup systems. With repairs complete, the bridge will take its usual minute to go up and, likewise, down rather than the three minutes and twenty seconds it’s been taking in each direction.
This may not seem like a long time, but it can add more than five minutes to a wait that typically lasts 10 minutes by the time the boats go through and the gates open and shut. That’s significant if you’re late to work, or headed to Belmar for your first cup of morning coffee..
The daily operation of the county’s four bridges was privatized in 2011 as a cost saving measure. But the county is still responsible for repair and maintenance.
Damaged by Hurricane Sandy, the bridge was closed from Oct. 30 until March 15. The repairs were finished earlier, Kirkpatrick said, but the bridge remained shut down during the period vehicular traffic was banned on Ocean Avenue in Belmar, where extensive work was being done to the boardwalk.
“We apologize for any inconvenience to the travelling public,” said Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone, “but Monmouth County prides itself on the safety and operation of its bridges.”
And in case you’re wondering why cars and pedestrians have to wait while the big party boats breeze through the inlet, Kirkpatrick provided the answer to that too. U.S. Coast Guard regulations assign precedence to boat traffic.
We hope that answers all your questions.