The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has commenced preliminary construction work on the first of four contracts under the $350m Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges project.

The latest $90m project includes construction of a new bridge alongside the existing one over Manahawkin Bay, which will provide a route on and off Long Beach Island in the event of closure of one of the bridges.

The new 2,400ft-long bridge will have a vertical clearance of 55ft over Manahawkin Bay, and will be used for eastbound traffic following the completion of the project.

Construction on the first phase is expected to be completed in 2016, while the entire project is slated for a 2020 finish.

The existing 53-year-old causeway, which connects the three mile stretch between Stafford on the mainland with Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island, is structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.

During Super Storm Sandy the causeway sustained relatively minor damage; however, the storm damage is a concern as Route 72 is the only way for motor vehicles to enter or exit Long Beach Island.

"Construction on the first phase is expected to be completed in 2016, while the entire project is slated for a 2020 finish."

NJDOT’s contractor, Schiavone Construction Co, started preparing for heavy construction by installing signs and paving in the area of U-turn ramps on Cedar Bonnet Island in the center portion of the causeway.

This initial construction zone will require the closing of the eastbound side of the highway and the existing u-turn ramps on Cedar Bonnet Island, and the eastbound traffic will be shifted to the road’s westbound side.

Following the establishment of the new traffic pattern, two travel lanes will be used in either direction during rush hours, and the existing westbound lanes will be used as deceleration lanes.

The first contract also involves the construction of the new approach roadways for the parallel span, new retaining walls and new storm-water drainage systems.

It involves construction of intelligent transportation systems and highway lighting upgrades.

The contractor will also install new fender systems, make substantial bulkhead repairs and implement environmental mitigation work.

Two new dynamic message signs (DMS) will be deployed along Route 72 eastbound and an existing westbound DMS will be upgraded in order to provide traffic and other information near the Garden State Parkway and Route 9 in Stafford.