Towns rejoice: Ocean Ave. bridge to remain open much of next winter

By Tim O’Meilia

    The closing of the East Ocean Avenue Bridge to begin construction of its replacement has been pushed back to March, giving oceanside residents and avenue merchants an extra winter without detours.
    “That will be wonderful. At least we can get through the season,” said South Palm Beach Mayor Donald Clayman. “It will be a two-year disaster as it is.” Palm Beach County engineers said they didn’t want the start of demolition on the deteriorating 61-year-old bridge to conflict with repainting of the Lake Worth bridge — the closest detour north — by the state Department of Transportation.
    “We’re trying to minimize the inconvenience as much as we can,” said Deputy County Engineer Tanya McConnell. “We don’t want two bridges to be closed at the same time.”
    The $32.4 million project, which includes a $500,000 fishing pier beneath the west end, still will begin in late November or early December, as the construction firm begins staging equipment for the work. The company will have to negotiate to find a location for its equipment and begin preliminary work before actual demolition begins.
    Bids for the work are being accepted until July 12 and the contract will be awarded Sept. 13, according to the present schedule. The notice to proceed from the county will not occur until December, said Assistant County Engineer Steve Carrier.
    The later start of construc-tion won’t affect the completion date, which remains October 2013.
    “It’s a great thing, whatever the reason,” said Lantana Town Manager Michael Bornstein. “The bottom line is there’s less time for the bridge to be out of service.”
    The new span will be more than 11 feet taller at the center of the channel, allowing for 40 percent fewer openings. The new bridge will have two shoulders/bicycle lanes and sidewalks doubling the current 3-foot width. The 800-foot fishing pier is meant to discourage fishermen from using the new, taller bridge.
    The Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce has already postponed its demolition street party until March 4.
    Merchants are hoping to create a series of festivals, fishing derbies and other events to lure barrier island residents in South Palm Beach and Manalapan. Coastal residents will be forced to drive six miles to the north or nine to the south to reach the 30 or so shops on the street.
    Manalapan Mayor Basil Diamond was skeptical that this would be the last schedule change. “This new date represents the fourth or fifth change. They haven’t finalized anything yet. The construction contract hasn’t been signed.”         Diamond has had discussions with officials from other barrier-island towns to try to pool resources while the bridge is out. “We’re going to need some intergovernmental cooperation,” he said.
     “At least it’ll bypass this winter season,” Diamond said. “The Ocean Avenue bridge in Boynton was finished early. Maybe we’ll be as lucky.”      Ú

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