SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. - Residents and vacationers traveling between Sea Isle City and Avalon were elated Friday evening when the Townsends Inlet Bridge reopened after five months of construction, said Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County tourism department.

"We're hearing people are very happy," Wieland said. And it's just "in time for the Fourth of July."

While the bridge was under repair, motorists had to take the Garden State Parkway or Route 9 - both of which can add about 10 miles each way - to get back and forth from the neighboring Shore towns.

The bridge opened about 6:50 p.m. Friday, Cape May County engineer Dale Foster said.

"Folks are happy it's open," he said. "It provides some relief to Sea Isle Boulevard," the main route off the island, which is undergoing construction of its own.

Repairs to the bridge - which began in January - were expected to be finished by Memorial Day. But Mugrose Construction Inc. delayed the opening until June 19, Foster said earlier this month, and yet again to Friday because of extensive rusting on the bridge and unsafe conditions.

"There's two sides to every story," Wieland said. "You don't want a bridge that's not safe."

The Townsends Inlet Bridge had been closed during the last two winter seasons as the county completed a $4.4 million construction project to repair the support beams on the bridge's movable span. Some remaining repairs will be completed next off-season, when other construction projects are expected to close the bridge again.

Contrary to some reports, Foster said the Townsends Inlet Bridge repairs were not related to Hurricane Sandy. Over time, the 76-year-old bridge's maximum capacity had decreased from 15 tons to three tons. With that decrease, NJ Transit vehicles were not able to cross.

The project mainly involved structural and mechanical rehabilitation of gears and racks on the bridge's movable span, as well as repairs to the tollhouse. Rusting steel had made the repairs more difficult than expected.