The aging Smith Point bridge, which has carried millions of beachgoers to Suffolk County’s largest oceanfront park since opening in 1959, will be replaced with a far taller $60 million crossing that eliminates the drawbridge that can stall beach traffic.
Public works officials and county consultants on Wednesday unveiled plans for the new span, which will stand 125 feet west of the existing bridge. Construction will start in 2021 and take two years.
The existing bridge will remain in use during construction, with most work occurring in the offseason. When work is finished, the old bridge will be razed through controlled blasting, officials said.
The bridge, located at the south end of William Floyd Parkway in Shirley, leads to Suffolk’s five-mile long oceanfront park, which each summer draws more than 300,000 swimmers, fishermen and beach campers. On weekend nights in the summer, the park hosts bands that attract thousands more visitors.
The park also serves as the eastern entry to the Fire Island National Seashore, and is the site of a waterfront memorial for those who died in the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.
The existing 1,218 foot bridge needs to be replaced, officials say, because of significant deterioration of its pilings. Also, the county can no longer find electronic parts for the center-section draw bridge that allows tall pleasure boats to pass underneath.
“Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) said boaters in the community have complained for years about “the ridiculous amount of time“ it takes to get through the drawbridge.
“It’s old, it needs to be replaced,” Browning said. “It’s not a want, it’s a need.”
The new bridge will be 55 feet high — more than twice the old bridge’s height — and tall enough for watercraft to pass under without a drawbridge. It will have nearly six-foot-wide sidewalks and five-foot-wide shoulders to better accommodate walkers and bicyclists.
Vanessa Baird Streeter, county spokeswoman, said the federal government will cover 80 percent of the project’s cost, with the county paying 20 percent. She said it is possible that the state will pick up three-quarters of the county share.
The current bridge, while still safe to use, has the worst rating of any county span and is at the end of its design life. While rehabilitation work was done in 2010, officials said further investment would almost as costly as a new bridge and yield only about 25 years use, compared with a 75-to-100 year life for a new crossing.
A public hearing on project is set for June 14 at 6 p.m. at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach.