In this Oct. 31, 2012 photo, residents and borough officials in Mantoloking N.J. stand on what used to be Route 35 , two days after Sandy devastated the community and wrecked the highway. Mantoloking plans to reopen the heavily traveled state road on or near Feb. 1.
When Sandy devastated this Ocean County barrier island community last October, it did more than destroy scores of homes and cut the community in two with a new inlet. It also knocked out a major north-south highway critical for the coastal region.
Borough officials said Tuesday night they expect to reopen Route 35 by the end of next week.
The state highway currently is open only in the southern half of the borough; northbound traffic must leave town via the Mantoloking Bridge into Brick Township, leading to lengthy detours and delays that have hurt businesses and inconvenienced residents of surrounding communities.
Attorney Chris Nelson, who's helping Mantoloking with its post-storm recovery efforts, said the reopening date will be around Feb. 1.
"There is a tremendous amount of pressure from towns south of us on the barrier island to open up," he said Tuesday.
When it does reopen, Mantoloking will go into a defensive crouch, adopting what Nelson called "a gated community" profile. Traffic will be permitted to drive north and south on Route 35, but all side streets will remain off-limits to non-residents.
Any motorist stopping on the roadway will be ticketed by a heavy police presence; at least nine state troopers will be on duty around the clock, Nelson said. Police also will have cars stationed at the north and south ends of the borough to read the license plates of every vehicle traveling through.
Several residents voiced concerns about allowing traffic to flow through the town again while so many damaged homes unsecured. Patty Heffner said her storm-wrecked home was recently broken into. She and her husband had already removed anything of value, but the incident was scary nonetheless.
"For someone to go into it, they had to be desperate," she said. "They had to climb over a fallen chimney."
She said local and state police have done a great job of patrolling the town and realizes "you can't check every house in the dark every hour or every night."
But she said people with unsecured homes should take precautions.
"If you have a home with something in it, it's not as safe as you think," she said.
One resident asked if police will require motorists entering the town to obtain identification passes, as is the requirement now. Nelson said that cannot be required once the state road is reopened, but he said security measures will be tight enough to protect property.
He also said state transportation officials plan to resurface Route 35 from Point Pleasant Beach to the entrance of Island Beach State Park at the southern end of the barrier island, a stretch of about 11 miles. That work should be done after this summer, he estimated.
Thousands of vehicles a day use Route 35, and the highway is the main north-south road through the Ocean County shoreline. Its use is second only to that of the Garden State Parkway in moving residents and tourists through the shore area.
The highway was wiped out in spots by the late October storm, the state's worst natural disaster. Sandy cut a new channel clear across the island, severing it in two and destroying the roadway. Quick repairs patched the breach, and a temporary dirt road was hastily built to let construction and emergency vehicles access the area.
Expedited repairs to the highway and the approach to the Mantoloking Bridge were made, in what state officials call the biggest emergency construction project they have ever done.