HIGHLANDS, NJ  – New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) Commissioner James Simpson announced that the new Route 36 Highlands Bridge will open to traffic this afternoon.

The new fixed-span bridge, completed on time, replaces an obsolete moveable span over the Shrewsbury River, linking Sea Bright and Highlands in Monmouth County.

“This bridge provides improved access to an immensely popular Shore recreational area and will reduce traffic congestion and delays to the benefit of local residents and Shore visitors,” Simpson said.  “The final product reflects that NJDOT listened to and responded to local concerns and suggestions.”

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Route 36 Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge under construction in the summer 2010.  PHOTO Allan Dean

Two traffic lanes in each direction will be opened to motor vehicles this afternoon.  All traffic has been sharing the two previously completed southbound lanes.

“The new Highlands Bridge will prove to be an important boost to our local economy,” said Senator Sean Kean.  “The free flowing traffic the new bridge provides will be of great benefit to local businesses as Shore visitors will be able to access either side of the bridge without interruption.  I credit NJDOT and the local municipal officials for working together to get this new bridge open on time.”

“This worthy investment of transportation dollars will pay dividends for years to come, making it easier for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the natural beauty of the Jersey Shore and patronize the shops and restaurants that serve them,” said Assemblyman David Rible.

"The opening of the Highlands Bridge marks a milestone for the residents of northern Monmouth County," said Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini.  “I look forward to our first summer season with the new bridge fully open to provide motorists with safer and quicker travel to their destination.”

NJDOT began construction on the $134 million project in February 2008. The previous bridge, which was built in 1932, had reached the end of its useful life and had been rated the worst movable bridge in New Jersey.  The new bridge, which is part of the emergency evacuation route for Sea Bright Borough and the Gateway National Recreational Area, has been designed to serve motorists for 100 years.

The new fixed-span bridge provides a 65-foot vertical clearance over the Shrewsbury River channel and carries two twelve-foot-wide lanes of traffic in each direction, with a median barrier. The new bridge also features two eight-foot-wide pedestrian sidewalks and two eight-foot-wide bicycle lanes. The fixed-span bridge will eliminate the conflict between highway and marine traffic and the delays caused by bridge openings.

The Department held numerous meetings with local officials and residents regarding the bridge replacement project dating back to 2001. Many of the communities’ recommended improvements were incorporated into the final design of the project.  NJDOT designed the new bridge to match the color and surface texture of the previous structure.

The Department also worked with the local municipalities and the National Park Service to modify traffic management plans so as to better accommodate passage into and out of Sandy Hook National Park during the summer months.  NJDOT staged the project in a manner that allowed motorists to cross the Shrewsbury River on Route 36 throughout construction.

Included in the project were two new pedestrian bridges over Route 36 in Sea Bright to provide safe crossings from the bridge over Ocean Avenue and Hartshorne Drive. The south pedestrian bridge links the sidewalk on the south side of the mainline bridge to the existing multi-use trail along the seawall in Sea Bright. The north pedestrian bridge links the sidewalk on the north side to the new extension of the multi-use trail in Gateway National Recreation Area.

Further construction activities will continue on the project, without major impacts to traffic.  NJDOT is installing additional signage and lighting throughout the project and new railing on the bridge parapets.  Final paving operations will also be completed in Sea Bright. The exit ramp from Sandy Hook National Park to Route 36 northbound will remain closed for approximately another week.  Once that ramp is opened, all traffic will be handled by the new bridge.

Construction information and real-time traffic updates are available at www.511nj.org