Manalapan: Commissioners alarmed by bridge timeline projections

By Dan Moffett

    Manalapan’s Audubon Causeway bridge project took on a new sense of urgency seconds after Town Manager Linda Stumpf told commissioners how long engineers say it will take to get it done.

    “Just so you know, from the time you decide to move forward with the engineering, to the estimated completion is 580 days,” she said.

    “Five hundred and eighty days?” said an incredulous Mayor David Cheifetz. “Nineteen months?” 

    “If you look at the construction, I think that’s totally unacceptable,” said Commissioner Peter Isaac, who wondered why Manalapan’s little bridge would take about as long as the newly minted, grand Lantana Bridge. “I’ve run construction projects. I’ve built dams in less time.”

    Stumpf, unflappable in the face of disbelief, told the commission that it takes about 120 days just to get the federal, state and local permitting done. And keeping one lane open to allow homeowners to come and go will delay completion, too, she said.

    “All I can say is that this is what the bridge engineer gave as the possible time frame in which to build this bridge,” she said.

    Commissioners, who came to the Jan. 28 meeting entertaining thoughts of sorting through artists’ renderings of design choices or kicking the project down to the town’s Architectural Commission for advice on ornamental touches — hand rails, colors, landscaping and such — figured there was no time to waste. Contemplating details can wait.

    They unanimously voted to move the project forward as quickly as possible, sending it to engineers to draw up the construction plans so it can be put out for bid as soon as early as March.

    “This is going to be a pain in the neck for everybody,” Cheifetz said.

    The town intends to spend about $750,000 to replace the aging 30-yard, two-lane span, taking most of that amount from unassigned reserves. Commissioners had hoped to wrap up the project before the next tourist season. But the engineers’ estimate would appear to make that goal farfetched.

    Boynton Beach attorney Ken Kaleel, who served several terms as the mayor of Ocean Ridge, told commissioners he had a similar experience five years ago, when his town rebuilt the Island Drive Bridge, a similar two-lane span.

    “We had the same angst,” Kaleel told them. “We did it one lane at a time. … The permitting was a pain. They may have to move piping, they may have to move cables. There’s a lot to it.”

    In fact, construction workers will have to replace the aging water lines that run across Audubon bridge, an additional expense that will eat up more of the reserve budget and also more time.

    What’s Kaleel’s guess of how long the Manalapan project will take?

    “I would say a good year,” he told them, and offered some advice on time estimates: “I think you get a better idea from the construction guy, as opposed to the bridge design guy.”

    Already, the pain has begun for residents near the point.

    Peter Lamelas is trying to build a house on Spoonbill Road, but he’s having trouble getting construction materials to his lot. Last month, the commission heeded the instruction of Florida Department of Transportation officials who said new weight limit should be put on the bridge because of its poor structural integrity.

    Lamelas told the commission he can’t get roofing tiles to the site because the delivery trucks exceed the bridge’s 13-ton limit and asked that it be waived temporarily. “All I’m asking is for a little flexibility,” he said.

    Stumpf promised the town would work with his contractor to set up an offload site near the foot of the bridge so trucks could lighten their loads and make deliveries in several trips. But the limit would have to stand.

    “We do not want to shut your project down,” she told him.

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