BAY HEAD, N.J. - The state Transportation Department is reversing gears on its ambitious plan to rebuild a road ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The department originally planned to start work on the $215 million Route 35 project in Ocean County this summer. It now plans to wait until September to do the most disruptive parts of the plan.
Instead of regrading and repaving the highway, the state will work on pumps and drainage improvements that won't require traffic to stop or lanes to be closed during the summer heavy-traffic months.
Mayors of several of the towns to be affected by the project, including Mantoloking and Bay Head, voiced concerns about what the project would do to the normally traffic-choked highway during the summer. This summer is particularly crucial to businesses that have barely been holding on since Sandy hit Oct. 29 and that are counting on a booming summer season.
The mayors "were concerned that even though we were going to do it in very discrete quarter-mile sections at a time, it would take one lane out of service," said Joseph Dee, a Transportation Department spokesman.
Route 35 is the second-busiest highway through the Shore area after the Garden State Parkway, and is the primary highway along the Ocean County coastline. Even without road work, miles-long backups are routine during summer, and many residents feared having to close one lane to let traffic pass in the other direction would have caused nightmarish traffic.
The time frame for the project will not change; work will still begin in early summer and conclude by Memorial Day weekend 2014. The only change will be that the pump and drainage work will be done first.
"The schedule was tight before and this makes it even tighter, but we're confident we can get it done," Dee said. "We want to get this road rebuilt before another storm comes along. There's no time to waste."
The project will rebuild 121/2 miles of roadway between Point Pleasant Beach and the entrance to Island Beach State Park. That includes some of the hardest-hit Shore towns, including Brick, Lavallette, Ortley Beach, Seaside Heights, and Seaside Park.
Parts of the highway were obliterated by the storm. The worst damage occurred where Route 35 met the Mantoloking bridge. That area was washed away when the storm surge cut a channel between the ocean and Barnegat Bay, necessitating the largest emergency construction project in New Jersey's history to repair the damage.