The state Department of Transportation is reminding motorists headed to the shore that the 65-year-old Mathis Bridge from Toms River into Seaside Heights is undergoing improvements after a malfunction Saturday kept the bridge stuck in the open position.

Mathis Bridge between Toms River and Seaside Heights (NJDOT)

"We frequently inspect the bridge, and all components of the bridge," spokesman Steve Schapiro said.

While a $74 million federally-funded project to rehabilitate the span began in November, construction is only taking place during the winter months to avoid disrupting traffic during the summer season, he said. The project is expected to take three seasons and should be completed in the summer of 2018.

"One of the gate arms did not come down properly after the bridge was open, so while we were closing the bridge to reopen it to traffic, that barrier gate got stuck before it completely closed, which prevented us from reopening the bridge," explained Schapiro about Saturday's incident.

Schapiro commended the local police for setting up an alternative route to access the barrier island until the bridge was fixed.

"They did an excellent job with this latest incident and setting up an alternate route, essentially taking one of the three westbound lanes, converting it to an eastbound lane to help get traffic across the bridge," Schapiro said. "Even if you had a brand new bridge, they also can have problems."

The Mathis Bridge frequently opens for boat traffic. Schapiro explained the decision to rehabilitate the span, rather than build a new, taller one was based on several factors.

"First of all, it would have been more than three times the cost of the current rehabilitation project to build a new bridge. Secondly, it would have had a much greater impact on the community and the environment, and it would have taken much longer to complete," Schapiro said. "The Department of Transportation has a responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer money, so we chose the rehabilitation option as the most cost-effective way to rehabilitate the bridge and extend its useful life for many years to come."

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com

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