Suffolk public works officials have unveiled a $53 million project to replace the rusted, aging drawbridge that hundreds of thousands of beach lovers use every summer to cross the Great South Bay and get to Smith Point.
The first phase of the project, put before the public works committee on Monday, calls for building a bridge just west of the existing structure, which would be razed when the construction is completed in 2020 or 2021.
The new bridge would remain two lanes, but add space for bicyclists and pedestrians, officials said.
The Smith Point crossing is important to tourism because the county park offers visitors a 5-mile stretch of beach at the south end of William Floyd Parkway, drawing nearly 600,000 cars and trailers every summer. The park is also the site of the TWA Flight 800 Memorial and the eastern access to the Fire Island National Seashore.
County lawmakers are currently being asked to authorize only $2 million in design funding for the project.
"This is basically a commitment that we intend to move forward," public works Commissioner Gil Anderson said of the construction plan.
Applications for state and federal aid -- which the county expects will generate $30 million to $40 million toward construction -- need to be filed by September, he said.
Public officials say the bridge would be built high enough -- 55 feet above the bay -- to allow boats to pass under. The current span has a center section that can be mechanically raised, sometimes causing temporary traffic delays.
The project would eliminate the need to have county employees work as bridge tenders and reduce costs to maintain the machinery, officials said.
It would be the county's first new major crossing to the barrier beach since the $13 million Ponquogue Bridge was constructed in Hampton Bays in 1987.
The Smith Point bridge first opened in 1959 and needs to be replaced because the structure has been weakened by scouring of the underwater supports.
"The electric system is so old, we can't get replacement equipment. It's being held together with Band-Aids," said William Hillman, chief engineer.
"It's beyond fixing," said Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley).