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 route 36 highlands bridge replacement graphic

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the condition of the existing bridge?
A. The existing State-owned, operated and maintained 35-foot movable bridge, constructed in 1932, has exceeded its 75-year service life. It is in poor condition and is deteriorating. The structure is currently rated as the fifth worst bridge in the state. Structurally it no longer meets today's standards for design and efficient operation. Motorists and emergency service crews experience extensive delays and congestion for motorists and emergency services, especially during the summer months when the bridge opens twice per hour for maritime traffic. In addition, the existing bridge is subjected to vehicular weight (loads) much higher than appropriate for its 1932 design. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has invested approximately one million dollars each year in the bridge's repair and operations.
Q. Why is it necessary to replace the existing bridge?

Reasons to replace the bridge include:

Age. Recent NJDOT inspections rate the bridge's structural condition and operational reliability as the fifth worst bridge in the State. The existing 35-foot movable bridge, constructed in 1932, has been subjected to stress unforeseen 75 years ago. Although NJDOT has extended the service life of the structure with extensive and expensive repairs, it continues to deteriorate.

Safety. The existing bridge has substandard features. NJDOT has increased the inspection schedule from a standard two-year cycle to once every three months. Given the bridge's current rate of deterioration, NJDOT would impose weight (load) restrictions within two years, limit large trucks and other vehicles, and require local truck detours through Rumson and Sea Bright.

The new fixed bridge will improve safety and follow current design standards. It will include a median barrier to separate traffic, and shoulders and sidewalks on each side to enhance pedestrian, cycling and vehicular safety. Also, the new bridge will improve marine safety by following the latest standards in design.

Storms. The majority of Sea Bright residents, employees of Sandy Hook and Gateway National Park visitors must use Route 36 and the bridge as their major coastal evacuation route. By Federal law, marine traffic has priority. If a major storm hits New Jersey, NJDOT must open the bridge to clear vessels which conflicts with the vehicular traffic needing the span closed. With a new fixed level bridge, all marine, vehicular and pedestrian traffic will be permitted to evacuate concurrently and immediately.

Traffic. The expansion of residential development and popularity of the shore recreational areas has increased vehicular and marine traffic in Highlands and Sea Bright. The marine traffic increase reduces access to adjacent roads for motorists and emergency vehicles, due to required bridge openings. The bridge replacement will eliminate the movable span and thus reduce traffic congestion caused by bridge openings.

Accidents. The bridge replacement project will reduce accidents by providing shoulders and wider traffic lanes. The existing bridge lanes are too narrow and lack shoulders to accommodate breakdowns. The new bridge's 12-foot wide lanes, center median barrier, and 8-foot shoulders will reduce accidents and improve emergency access. The two pedestrian overpasses connecting Highlands with Gateway National Park and with Sea Bright will provide safer access for the community and visitors.

Q. Can the existing bridge be rehabilitated instead of replaced?
A. Rehabilitating the existing bridge would not address the needs described above. The drawbridge severely limits emergency coastal evacuation in the area. A full rehabilitation would require an extended closure of the bridge during repairs, and would only prolong the bridge's service life by approximately 20-years. In addition, continued operation of the movable bridge would require investments in maintenance, staff and operation. The proposed fixed bridge will have a 100-year life span, will require less maintenance and will have no operational costs.
Q. Can a new drawbridge replace the existing bridge?

A new movable drawbridge would not eliminate vehicular and marine traffic conflicts, which cause severe backups during the summer, extend emergency access time, and limit coastal evacuation in major storms.

A replacement movable bridge would cost more to build and maintain and would require the taking of private property.

The new fixed bridge will require no residential property takings, minimize impacts to the community, and enhance safety and operation at a lower cost.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the lead agency and requires that state highway bridges are designed and rated in accordance with the guidelines of the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHTO) and the New Jersey Bridge Design Manual. Federal Aid Policy Guide 23 CFR 650H, Section 650.809, requires a fixed alternative be considered as a replacement option for all movable bridges.

NJDOT and FHWA policies include eliminating movable bridges whenever practicable. There are 23 movable bridges in New Jersey, compared to 28 bridges five years ago. NJDOT will replace six additional movable bridges with fixed structures, maximizing safety and efficiency while minimizing operational costs.

Q. Why does the new fixed bridge need to be higher than the existing structure?
A. The United States Coast Guard has jurisdiction over navigable waterways and establishes minimum height requirements for new bridges over these waterways. The Coast Guard requires a minimum height of 65 feet for the Route 36 Highlands Bridge.
Q. How was the bridge selected? Were there other options?
A. NJDOT conducted a detailed alternatives analysis over several years to identify the most prudent and feasible option for the bridge replacement. The options included rehabilitation, a 55-foot movable bridge, and a 65-foot fixed bridge. The new 65-foot fixed bridge is the option that best meets the needs of the project and minimizes impacts and costs.
Q. Are other improvements included as part of the Route 36 bridge replacement project?

The Route 36 project includes significant improvements, such as:

  • The replacement of the quarter-mile, 75-year-old double-leaf bascule bridge over the Shrewsbury River with a 65-foot high fixed span, precast concrete segmental bridge with 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders;
  • Operational upgrades to approach roadways and intersections in the Boroughs of Highlands and Sea Bright;
  • Modification of the existing Sandy Hook National Park toll plaza;
  • A new National Park Service (NPS) toll plaza at the entrance of Sandy Hook Park, with more booths and capacity;
  • New turnaround loops before the NPS toll plaza and after the toll plaza;
  • Construction of two 8-foot wide pedestrian sidewalks and two eight-foot wide shoulders on each side;
  • Bicycle and pedestrian safety features such as painted lanes for cyclists and two pedestrian overpasses connecting Highlands, Sandy Hook and Sea Bright;
  • A promenade is included with the park enhancements in the Borough of Highlands on Bay Avenue;
Q. What will the fixed bridge look like?

The new fixed bridge design is streamlined and has no drawbridge towers and fewer pilings. It will be 65 feet above the Shrewsbury River and 125 feet below the Twin Lights. The bridge will begin and end approximately at the same points as it currently does in Highlands and Sea Bright. The soldier monument will remain, but must be temporarily moved to Highlands Community Park during bridge construction. Two pedestrian overpass bridges will allow safe crossings to and from Highlands, Sea Bright and Sandy Hook Park.

Recognizing the importance of the new bridge as a gateway to the communities and the National Gateway Area, NJDOT established an Aesthetics Task Force to identify and discuss design elements intended to blend into the scenic, aesthetic and historic character of its setting.

The architectural design features developed with the Aesthetic Task Force include:

  • Two monuments (pylons) at the west abutment in Highlands and two monuments (pylons) at the east abutment in Sea Bright. The pylons will feature decorative fish tiles replicated from those on the existing bridge.
  • Decorative plaques with the crests of the boroughs of Highlands and Sea Bright and the National Park Service.
  • Silver lighting that replicates the lighting on the existing bridge.
  • Concrete pilasters with featured decorative fish tiles replicated from the existing bridge.
  • Rustications and reveals in the pier columns and form liners on the waterline footings for a streamlined and age appropriate effect.
  • A five-bar silver open steel rectangular railing to enhance the openness of the bridge and provide unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean. Today's crash proof test requirements do not allow replication of the existing bridge railing on the new bridge.
  • Lighting, silver fencing and landscaping that will blend the pedestrian bridges with the ocean.
Q. How will pedestrians and bicyclists benefit?

The new bridge will have:

  • 8-foot sidewalks and eight-foot shoulders with painted bicycle lanes in both directions.
  • Two pedestrian overpasses will provide bicyclists and pedestrians with safe crossings to Ocean Avenue and to Hartshorne Drive.
  • The bicycle lanes will connect to existing paths in Highlands, Sea Bright and Sandy Hook Park to enhance pedestrian, bicycle and fishing access in the surrounding area.
Q. Will the grade of the proposed bridge be unsafe and create black ice conditions in bad weather?
A. The maximum grade of the new bridge approach is 6.5 percent, which is within acceptable design standards for safety. It is similar to grades on other bridges recently constructed in coastal environments. No black ice conditions have been reported on similar bridges. In addition, NJDOT salts roadways against ice and clears snow on state highway bridges.
Q. What is the total cost of the project?
A. The total cost of the 65-foot fixed bridge is approximately $124 million.
Q. Will the bridge or Route 36 be closed during construction?

Route 36 will remain open to traffic throughout construction. NJDOT will build the bridge in two stages in order to maintain at least two lanes of traffic.

NJDOT will implement temporary closures and detours for safety during demolition and placement of new beams; coordinate with local police; and assist communities in maintaining traffic flow and regularly scheduled bridge openings until all traffic is transferred to the new fixed bridge.

Q. What is the schedule for the bridge replacement?
A. Construction will be completed in approximately three years.
Q. How has the community been involved in this project?

NJDOT is committed to an active, continuous public and community outreach effort on this project. NJDOT and the affected communities have also participated in Local Officials' Briefings, Public Information Centers and presentations to civic organizations, which were held to share information about the project and to obtain input about the project from the general public.

This effort was substantially enhanced in 2001 with the establishment of the Community Partnering Team (CPT) which represents local community representatives and regional agencies. The team has held more than 20 meetings as part of an ongoing information exchange and discussion among stakeholders on key cultural and environmental issues related to the project.

The Department will continue its CPT community efforts throughout construction. In addition, NJDOT will host meetings, special presentations and provide information as requested by the Boroughs of Highlands and Sea Bright, Monmouth County, the NPS, other agencies and the general public.

Q. How can I stay informed or offer suggestions?

You may:

  • check this Web site regularly for updated information and web cam viewing;
  • attend Public Information Centers or presentations scheduled during the construction phase.
Q. How will NJDOT preserve the historical value of the Twin Lights of Navesink and other historic structures near the bridge?

The 150-year-old Navesink Twin Lights (north and south towers) stand 200 feet above sea level in Highlands and are recognized as National Historic Landmarks.

Because of the Twin Lights' proximity to the bridge, NJDOT will minimize the impact of the project on the view to and from Twin Lights. In accordance with a Memorandum of Agreement with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) NJDOT will:

  • coordinate with SHPO through design modifications and construction;
  • work with members of the communities and NPS to identify materials, configuration, proportions and design features;
  • identify historic and decorative elements to salvage, replicate and re-use;
  • produce view shed renderings and document photos;
  • conduct archeological investigation of Woodward/Schenck Tavern/House;
  • formulate a preservation plan and do temporary stabilization and weatherproofing of the Murray/Masciale House;
  • develop and set up exhibits detailing the telegraph and radio facilities on the Twin Lights property;
  • provide Recordation to Historic American Engineering Standards;
  • produce a report and a Traveling Interpretive Artifact Display on the "A History of Travel and Transportation of Highlands and Highlands Beach."
Q. How will the Department preserve the aesthetic features of the bridge, such as the original tile work?

Aesthetics are essential to building a new bridge that reflects the historic setting and character of the existing bridge.

NJDOT incorporated architectural features including two monuments (pylons) at the west abutment in Highlands and two pylons at the east abutment in Sea Bright. The pylons will feature decorative fish, seahorse, sea creature and ship scene tiles replicated from the original tiles on the existing pylons. The decorative tiles will be located just above the railing height on the new pylons for greater visibility. In addition, the light pole concrete pilasters along the bridge will have a set of three decorative fish, seahorse or sea creature tiles located on each base (smaller in size than on the pylons) on both sides of the bridge.

Other architectural features include a five-bar open steel rectangular railing to enhance openness of the bridge to motorists and pedestrians which will provide unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean, rustication/reveals in the pier columns and form liners, use of Borough Seals in the pylon bases, granite facing form liners, and landscaping details developed in coordination with the local historic society and garden clubs. The soldier monument will remain, but will be temporarily moved to Highlands Community Park during construction. In addition, NJDOT will provide a promenade as part of the enhancements in Highlands Park near the bridge.

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  Last Updated:  January 22, 2009