By Lauren Wanko
Now that the Sandy relief package is signed into law, Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson says the aid is critical.
“We need to repair and/or replace what was damaged and we also need to improve so this doesn’t happen again, so this is like an ounce of prevention is worth pound of cure,” Simpson said. “For every dollar we spend now, it’s probably saving $10 or $20 if hopefully this is a 100- or 500-year storm or storm of the millennium, but you never know so we gotta be ready.”
As for the department’s top priorities when the federal dollars start rolling in, Simpson says the list is long.
“There is along list. I can’t articulate them now. Obviously anything that was damaged has to be replaced so the rail cars, the substations, power, track, signal and rolling stock, highways, we gotta get the highways back. The big problems with our highways is drainage too,” Simpson said.
“We have to set standards. We have to do this in a rational way so that so it will take time. Now that the president has cleared the pathway for those conversations to really take form, we’re gonna sit down with federal government soon as possible,” said Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Simpson joined Guadango today to announce construction will soon begin on the $350 million Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Causeway project. The acting governor says the causeway is safe but outdated. The project, 10 years in the making, will be divided into four construction phases.
“We’ll be starting construction this spring by building a new bridge alongside the existing one and then later in the construction schedule, we’ll completely rehabilitate the existing bridge. These twin bridges will span the bay side by side yet they will be completely independent of one another so that if one bridge gets damaged or has some sort of a problem we will still have another way to get on and off the island which we don’t have today,” Simpson said.
The commissioner says the sequence of construction activity planned means traffic won’t be impacted during peak summer hours. Motorists can expect the current two travel lanes in each direction. Wider travel lanes and shoulders along with a barrier-protected sidewalk are all part of the plan. The causeway didn’t sustain any major damage during Superstorm Sandy and remained open at all times. The first construction contract will be advertised for bids tomorrow. The project is expected to be completed by 2020.