By Dan Moffett
After viewing an engineering consultant’s slide show and getting reassuring answers to another round of unsettling questions, the Manalapan Town Commission unanimously agreed to move forward with a plan to replace the aging Audubon Causeway bridge.
The decision ends months of administrative hand-wringing over the cost, design and construction inconvenience for the 25-foot span that links two portions of Point Manalapan.
Commissioner Peter Isaac called the April 22 vote approving the $750,000 project a “kick it back in gear” resolution.
The town now will seek bids from contractors and approval from state and federal agencies, a permitting process that could itself take several months to complete.
The goal is to begin construction about a year from now, at the end of the 2014-15 tourist season. Brian Rheault, the owner of the town’s engineering consulting firm, West Palm Beach-based Bridge Design Associates, says it will take about eight months to finish the work once the actual building begins.
One lane of the bridge will be kept open at all times during construction to allow traffic to cross, Rheault told the commission, but the waterway underneath the span will be closed to boats. He said motorists will be left to use “an on-your-honor system” when it comes to yielding to oncoming vehicles.
“This type of bridge replacement requires residents to be polite and develop some type of common decency,” he said. “They have to develop some sort of etiquette.”
Rheault put on a slide show for commissioners of a similar project his company oversaw, replacing the Island Drive bridge in Ocean Ridge five years ago.
He said much of the concrete sections of the structure will be precast to avoid downtime and keep the project moving. Most of the materials and equipment will be staged off-site to avoid cluttering the construction area and annoying homeowners.
It will take about 4½ months for workers to complete half the bridge, opening a new lane that will have no load restrictions on trucks and utility vehicles. “Anything can cross at that point,” Rheault said.
The town can expect “50 years plus” of service from the rebuilt bridge, according to the consultants, who says the current Audubon bridge is about that old and has none of the more durable modern materials that will go into the new span.
Rheault told commissioners they might be able to shorten the construction time by offering the contractor financial incentives to finish early — typically, something in the order of $1,000 for each day the project beats a set deadline. The town could also put penalties into the contractor’s contract for going past the deadline.
“You’d be surprised how many contractors do that because they see that as pure profit,” he said. “But if you offer the incentive, you have to have the disincentive, too, for finishing late.”
In other business:
• Commissioners unanimously approved spending $23,500 from an unassigned fund to cover the cost of making the entrance to the Town Hall compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
A consultant’s report recommended design changes that included building a ramp to the main entrance and reconfiguring parking spaces to provide better access for people with disabilities. Town resident Kersen de Jong had complained to officials that the building was not compliant with ADA standards.
• Mayor David Cheifetz said he is frustrated over the difficulties commissioners have had getting things done and will offer a reorganization plan at the next commission meeting.
“Part of it is the process itself,” Cheifetz said. “I’ve learned that there are many more acronyms than I even want to think about — there’s RFQs, RFPs, BMAs and Sunshine Laws — and getting the simplest things done in the public sector is sort of frustrating for me.”
The mayor says his plan will draw principles from businesses in the private sector that he hopes will allow the commission to function more efficiently.