The little bridge, built in 1903, has been closed since April 23 after an inspection uncovered a possible safety risk and structural issues.
An engineer’s early recommendation in May suggested the bridge remain closed permanently to motorists, noting it would cost between $10 and $15 million to repair it.
Nearby residents, though, hope the bridge, used by about 14,000 vehicles per day, is repaired and reopens to vehicles.
“It’s a direct route to Mount Laurel and Moorestown for us,” said Elaine Morris, a longtime Willingboro resident. “To close it permanently would be a big inconvenience and unnecessary. It’s been there forever and we’re totally dependent on that little bridge.”
Longtime Willingboro resident Karen Savar, who lives in the section of the town near the bridge, hopes officials understand the bridge’s value to residents.
“I know it’s a small bridge but it’s an important one,” she said.
If closed, the center swing-span bridge, which runs over the Rancocas Creek, could become a walking, biking or fishing pier, officials said.
“After the inspections are completed, they will present those options and alternatives to (the Board of Chosen Freeholders) obviously with the prices associated with each option, and then the board could make the decision from there,” Burlington County public information officer Eric Arpert said.
Residents say they’ve had to change their routes numerous times and the detour has increased traffic at some of the other exits.
While it doesn’t so much impact her ride to work in Lawrenceville, Savar said, it “impacts everything I do south of Willingboro.”
State Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said the bridge issue speaks to a larger problem in the state and called it disappointing that the bridge might be closed to vehicles permanently.
“It’s indicative of the overarching problem of us in New Jersey not having a stable source of funding or a plan to address the ongoing issues with our transportation trust fund,” he says.
Carlucci’s Waterfront Restaurant is on Centerton Road in Mount Laurel right near the bridge, and while manager Carlo Capuano said it hasn’t necessarily cut down on business this summer, he said it certainly has impacted the number of cars that drive by the restaurant, which could mean missing out on potential customers.
“I definitely want it reopened to traffic,” he said. “The average cars that pass by the establishment has definitely diminished. I mean if people want to get here, they’re going to get here but the average traffic has definitely diminished passing by.
“I cross that bridge two, three times a day. Now I can’t. My normal commute to the bank, post office and to run my errands and deliveries now takes a little longer.”
Swarupi Patel who has lived in Mount Laurel close to Carlucci’s for the last several months says taking Interstate 295 can be more of a hassle.
“They closed it (the bridge) because of the damage,” she said. “Could there be another way out? They could reconstruct it and open it. I think that would be good.”
Morris is also concerned about some of the small businesses in the area being impacted and says the detour down I-295 causes delays and inconveniences, particularly in the mornings.
“If it’s a county structure, then it should be brought before all of us,” she said. “There should be something in the budget, capital improvements or something along the way, from our taxes. Goodness knows we pay taxes. I think Willingboro and council should have a big say in this.”