NJDOT Route 71 Shark River Bridge Road Diet Project Recognized in 2023 America’s Transportation Awards

NJDOT’s Route 71 Shark River Bridge Preservation and Road Diet project has been selected as a regional winner in the 2023 America’s Transportation Awards Competition. The competition is sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

The Route 71 Shark River Bridge Preservation and Road Diet project received honors in the Operations Excellence, Small category. This year’s regional winners were chosen from a selection of 19 projects nominated by nine states in the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials (NASTO) region. The NASTO region’s winners will compete for the National Grand Prize, the People’s Choice Award, and $10,000 in cash awards that will be given by the winners to a transportation-related charity or scholarship program of their choosing.  

After the Route 71 Drawbridge over Shark River between Belmar and Avon-by-the-Sea in Monmouth County suffered a mechanical failure in September 2021, engineers devised a cost-effective design and implementation solution that would preserve the drawbridge and keep it in safe operation.

NJDOT implemented a road diet across the bridge, which allowed the Department to address safety issues. Traffic over the bridge was reduced from one northbound lane and two southbound lanes to one lane in each direction.

With the lane configuration reduced to one lane in each direction, NJDOT was able to extend bicycle lanes that previously terminated in Avon-By-The-Sea across the drawbridge into Belmar. Previously, bicyclists needed to dismount and walk their bicycle across the bridge. The extended bicycle lanes were accomplished using an innovative fiber-reinforced-polymer mat on the bascule span. The mat is the first of its kind in New Jersey and provides a safe crossing of a steel-grid deck for bicycles. The extended bicycle lanes provide connectivity between both downtown areas and area heavily utilized by bicycle traffic year-round.

Safety improvements to the Rt 71 over Shark River Drawbridge Included a bicycle safe grid on the draw span which allows bicyclists to cross without the need to dismount.

NJDOT was able to improve traffic flow at the Fifth Avenue intersection with the road diet project. Previously, two southbound lanes crossing the drawbridge on Route 71 were a source of traffic backups with left turning vehicles occupying the left lane, compounded by an abrupt merge south of Fifth Avenue. The merge that previously existed on Route 71 south of Fifth Avenue in downtown Belmar was eliminated with the road diet project. The road diet configuration retained one through lane southbound and installed a dedicated left turn lane at the Fifth Avenue intersection. Signal timings were changed, and a protected left turn phase added to further improve traffic flow. Careful monitoring of traffic throughout the year, and especially during bridge openings, have shown that the road diet lane configuration greatly improved traffic flow.

The Route 71 Drawbridge Project over Shark River, completed in May 2022, delivered several benefits, including improved traffic flow, reductions in traffic congestion, increased safety and an enhanced cycling experience for users navigating a busy shore community tourism area.

Road Diets are a safety-focused alternative to four-lane, undivided roadways that can help reduce vehicle speeds and free space for alternative transportation modes. Road Diets were a recognized model innovation during the 3rd Round of the Every Day Counts Program (EDC-3) Program.

Additional information about the rationale, design and benefits of advancing this innovative bridge safety and road diet project can be found in the video here and in this NJDOT press release

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