Can Residents Bridge their Differences with the Coast Guard?

A Bridge over tranquil waters...

Look at the Capt. Joseph Azzolina Bridge. It spans the Shrewsbury River between Highlands and Sea Bright. It is 65 feet above mean high water so sailboats with high masts can pass underneath the busy Shrewsbury enroute to points north, New York Harbor or the Atlantic Ocean. It is over what has been called one of the eight strongest currents in the world, and replaces two earlier bridges built in two previous centuries. It works for that busy piece of water and the heavy vehicular traffic above heading into Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook.

Now look at the Oceanic Bridge. It spans the quiet, tranquil Navesink River between a residential section of Locust and a small business section of Rumson anchored by the Salt Creek Grille Restaurant with its gracious waterfront dining area and docking for boaters coming in for dinner or a quiet cocktail. Homes on the Navesink River Road in Middletown that open out to the Navesink can see it settled 22 feet above mean high water, a historic fixture in a tranquil setting. Fishermen without boats can park on the Locust side of the bridge and enjoy their sport at the Middletown entrance side of the bridge.

Tranquility and relaxation at its best. Right in the middle of the Navesink Historic District.

Think about it. Would you want that bridge that fits in with the environment replaced by one as high as the Capt. Joseph Azzolina Bridge?

That’s a reality that could very well happen in the 21st century unless residents of the area let the Coast Guard know they have a better solution.

The Coast Guard has determined that given the reasonable needs of navigation, a bridge over the Navesink River to replace the 22’high movable bascule bridge in need of replacement must have clearance of at least 65 feet above mean high water if it is fixed, meaning not having to open to let water traffic pass below. A lower movable bascule bridge of any height would also be acceptable but cost more.

However, Monmouth County, and the Officials of both Rumson & Middletown asked the Coast Guard to reevaluate its preliminary navigational vertical clearance and consider other options. That is what prompted the notice inviting interested parties “to express their views in writing on the proposed bridge project, giving sufficient detail to establish a clear understanding of their reasons for support of or opposition to the proposed work.” A 50’ high (MHW) clearance bridge would accommodate the reasonable needs of both mariners and land-based transportation, (auto, cyclists, and pedestrians).

But residents have to act fast. Before Aug. 13. That’s the date the Coast Guard has set to accept any views on a proposed bridge project which currently would put a new bridge at the same height as the Capt. Azzolina Bridge over the busy Shrewsbury.

The Friends of the Oceanic Bridge Association, Inc., a non-profit group formed 17 years ago in response to the first plans to replace the bridge, is leading the charge to have any new bridge be no higher than 50 feet above mean high water, still a distinctive difference from the present bridge height.

“It’s not what we want, but it’s a compromise,” said Todd Thompson of Fair Haven, one of the Friends of the Association. “We’ve been more than ten years without an approval for the finished product. It we do not have a definite approved plan in place, the bridge will fall apart, eventually shut itself down, and then we won’t have anything. Compromises accomplishes completion.”

Ideally, Friends members say, a replacement bridge would continue to be a 22-foot-high bascule bridge. That was the position ten years ago when a replacement was proposed by Monmouth County, which owns the roadway. That proposal had the endorsement of everybody in the area, including the Monmouth County Board of Recreation Commissioners, the boroughs of Rumson, Little Silver, Fair Haven, and Middletown, the County Board of Freeholders, now called the County Board of Commissioners, and the Middletown Landmarks Commission. At that time, the Coast Guard called for a 55 foot clearance and an overall height of approximately 70 feet above mean high water.

Today, the Coast Guard’s preliminary determination is a minimum of a 65 foot clearance for a fixed bridge. That would make the vehicular road above the water at 81 feet where it is now approximately 25 feet. That is the determination for which residents are now being asked to give their opinions.

Costs of the replacement bridge are also a consideration in Monmouth County making its decision on a final bridge given their opinion the Coast Guard would consider a bascule bridge, but additional funding must be found for its higher cost. So the Friends of the Bridge have reached the compromise that if a bascule bridge will not be considered, lowering the Coast Guard’s 65 foot minimum and raising their own desire for the current 22 foot height above water, a new bridge of 50 foot above the water is a fair compromise. This compromise would even more financially reasonable for county taxpayers since it would save almost $8 million in Federal tax dollars by today’s cost estimates.

“The best compromise is the one where neither party is completely happy,” said Richard McComber, another of the Friends leading opposition to a higher bridge. “ This seems to be a figure about in the middle of what each side wants, neither being content, but one where 98.1 per cent of boats in the area could pass under a bridge of that height. At the same time, motorists on the road above would not have to face all the obstacles and the environment would not be as severely damaged to accommodate a bridge that would put the road 81 feet above the water.”

In their own letter to the Coast Guard, Friends of the Ocean Bridge Association, Inc. pointed out that the Navesink River is a non-commercial waterway and the Oceanic Bridge is a county bridge that is not on the Intercoastal Waterway.

Residents can cite any number of reasons why a 50 foot high bridge should be the highest considered by the Coast Guard. Friends members cited at least nine reasons, including impact on the traditional character of the two historic districts it crosses, impediments created with a higher bridge to bikers, walkers, joggers and bikers who daily use the roadway and would be facing a five per cent grade, the adverse effect on the views of residents on both sides of the river as well as the Navesink River itself, the increased noise of a higher bridge due to the steeper grade, the increase in dangers to motorists in ice, snow and foggy weather, and a survey completed that October that showed 84 per cent of respondents opposed to a high, fixed bridge. Historians and preservationists as well as economists should also note an impact analysis prepared by Integrat Resources – Coastal, NJ. For the Monmouth County Engineer, ten years ago concluded potential property-value would be impacted negatively by $45 to $65 million

For many of the less than two percent of boats that could not safely go beneath a 50 foot high bridge, they could even be accommodated simply by lowering their antennae and outriggers, a mandate the County could require, Friends of the Oceanic Bridge added.

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Oceanic Proposals
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