The following is a guest blog post by Mark Allen of the South Jersey Marina. It also appeared in the editorial section of this weeks Star and Wave newspaper.
Most of us cross over the Schellengers Landing Bridge all the time and never give it a second thought. Nor do the kayakers and paddle boarders who pass underneath it, unless the tide is so extraordinarily high that they have to literally lay down to clear underneath. The bridge is very short, less than 200’ long. This all metal, open grate bridge has spanned Schellengers Creek and connected the City of Cape May with Lower Township at Schellenger’s Landing here on the Other Side for almost a century.
Once upon a time, the bridge, which is also known as the Lafayette Street Bridge contained mechanisms that allowed it to open bilaterally thereby enabling vessel traffic to transit freely between the Harbor and Cape Island Creek. This was important since Wilson Avenue was once a focal point for the many local boat builders who launched their newly built vessels directly into Cape Island Creek. Plus, many of the “head” boats and charter fishing vessels that once plied Cape May’s waters berthed at the marinas along Cape Island Creek. A low bridge that did not open would have effectively trapped vessels on Cape Island Creek. However, with the advent of the Cape May Canal in 1942, and the subsequent creation of the Spicers Creek extension, the need for an opening bridge became moot because vessels could directly access the marinas and boat yards along Wilson Avenue from the new canal via Spicer Creek.
Since draw bridges tend to be expensive to maintain the decision was made to lock this one into the closed position sometime during the 50’s or early 60’s. Thus the bridge became little more than a very short thru way for legions of travelers, most of whom never realized they were actually driving across a bridge while on their way into or out of Cape May. But alas, with the passage of time, traffic, flood tides and weather the supporting steel members began to corrode. According to County Engineer Dale Foster, during its very last inspection, the bridge was found to be “structurally deficient.” The bridge was in dire need of repair and upgrade. Obviously, this process would necessitate a drastic modification to the traffic pattern into and out of Cape May.
Consequently, late this month (March) the outbound lane out of Cape May will be closed, and stay closed for most of this spring. All traffic will be routed on the single existing lane into and out of the City across the Schellenger’s Landing Bridge. Traffic flow will be controlled via signage, lights, and traffic control devices. Geographically, the area affected will extend from 1st Avenue on Schellenger’s Landing in Lower Township to Yacht Avenue in Cape May City. It is expected that this initial disruption to traffic patterns heading into the City will last until May 20, 2016.
The amount to work to be completed is extensive. First, over half a century of mud and debris will be cleaned out of the old machinery pits on either side of the bridge. Next, corroded steel supports will be supplemented with new steel beams and columns. An important aspect of the project is ensuring that the sidewalks and approaches to the bridge are ADA compliant, which will be music to the ears of those who traverse the bridge on foot or by bike.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a very small bridge, oft ignored by locals and visitors alike, but at the same time, given its location the Schellengers Landing Bridge is critical to the lifeblood of Cape May City since it is the most critical connection south of the canal. Users can expect delays and frustrations, but with any luck, this first phase of the Schellengers Landing bridge upgrade should be complete by summer. The second phase to rebuild the inbound lane is scheduled for this fall, October and November. In any case, give yourself extra time, exercise caution and include an extra dose of patience, and we’ll all get through this together.
Editor Note: An immediate outcome of the bridge work into Cape May is the cancellation of the Strictly Boaters boat show at South Jersey Marina.