The following is a copy of the letter the Friends of the Oceanic Bridge Association, Inc., sent to the U.S Coast Guard in response to their requests for comments on the Oceanic Bridge (Monmouth County S-31) between the borough of Rumson and Township of Middletown. Commonly known as the Oceanic Bridge.
This letter is being forwarded to you by the Friends of the Oceanic Bridge Association, Inc. (Friends) in accordance with the Preliminary Public Notice 1-0187 issued by your office on July 12, 2021. Friends awes formed in December 2004 in response to plans by the Office of the Monmouth County Engineer to replace the Oceanic Bridge. As I am sure you are aware, the present Oceanic Bridge connects the historic districts of the Township of Middletown and the Borough of Rumson, New Jersey. Since its formation, Friends has opposed a high, fixed bridge, recognizing that the Navesink River is a non-commercial waterway and the Oceanic Bridge is a county bridge that is not on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Presently, Monmouth County’s Preliminary Preferred Alternative for the Oceanic Bridge is a fixed bridge with a vertical clearances of 50 feet at mean high water (MHW) The US Cost Guard has determined that if the bridge is going to be a fixed bridge, the vertical clearance above MHW must be 65 feet. Friends disagrees with that determination by the Coast Guard that the fixed bridge replacement for the Oceanic Bridge must be at least 65 feet above MHW. Since December 2004, the position of Friends has been that a replacement for the Oceanic Bridge should be a low, bascule bridge. After the Coast Guard determined that if the bridge is going to be a fixed bridge, the vertical clearance above MHW must be 65 feet, Friends conceded with several governmental officials that if a fixed bridge is the only alternative, that Friends would accept a bridge having 50 feet of clearance above MHW. That was a substantial concession. If the Coast Guard maintains its position that any fixed bridge must have a vertical clearance above MHW of 65 feet, Friends will then urge that the replacement to the Oceanic Bridge be a bascule bridge having 45 feet of clearance above MHW which was one of the alternative suggested by Monmouth County.
PPN 1-187 notes that the final determination by the Coasts Guard will seek to provide a ‘safe, functional and efficient crossing that serves the needs of highway, pedestrian and marine traffic,” It is submitted that if a fixed bridge is required by the County of Monmouth, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and/or the Federal Highway Authority that a 50-foot fixed bridge will be sufficient to meet the purposes set forth above and will reduce the anticipated cost by almost $8 million.
One of the main reasons for Friends seeking a lower bridge is the historic character of the surrounding neighborhoods. The present bridge was built in 1939 in the Arte Moderne architectural style and is eligible for the NJ Register of Historic Places. It is a bascule bridge with 22 feet of clearance above MHW. The replacement by any fixed bridge will compromise the present historic character of the area; however, between a fixed bridge with 65 feet of clearance about MHW and 50 feet above MHW, Friends prefers the latter.
Another advantage of keeping the bridge lower is that it will permit the bridge to continue to be a much used recreational asset. The present low bridge is used by walkers, joggers, bicyclists and even folks pushing baby carriages. Because the grade of a bridge having r65 feet of vertical clearance above the MHW will exceed 5 percent, it will make it more difficult for these pedestrians and cyclists. Also, the steeper grade will be less safe for both pedestrians and the motoring public during snowy or icy conditions.
Moreover, a Consulting Report Fiscal Impact Analysis prepared by integra Resources – Coastal NJ, for the Monmouth County Engineer by the Maguire Group, Inc., dated March 24, 2010, with respect to a fixed bridge having 55 feet of clearance above MHW concluded:
Based on the survey methods used to develop the potential value impact factors, and given
Integra’s definition of the study area and specific parcels likely to be affect, Integra estimates
a potential property-value impact on the order of $45 to $65 million.”
It should be noted that the potential adverse property-value impact of $45 million to $65 million was in 2019 dollars, not 2021 or 2020 dollars.
PN 1-187 provides that a fixed bridge having 50 feet of vertical clearance above MHW would accommodate 98.1 percent of the vessels going under the bridge. Friends believes that accommodating 98.1 percent of the vessels is sufficient. Furthermore, if the vessels were required to lower their masts and outriggers, a bridge having 50 feet of vertical clearance would accommodate an even greater percentage of vessels. Following a request for responses from the public solicited by the Office of the Monmouth County Engineer, 84 per cent of the respondents indicated they would prefer a low bridge (therefore a bascule bridge) as opposed to a high, fixed bridge. Finally, between 2005 and 2010, the Township of Middletown and the Boroughs of Rumson, Fair Haven and Little Silver adopted resolutions favoring a low bridge as the replacement for the Oceanic Bridge.
In conclusion, Friends would urge the Coast Guard to determine that if a fixed bridge is the final solution that it needs m more than 50 feet of vertical clearance above MHW.