New Jersey Department of Transportation recently broke ground on the second phase of a major replacement project on the Route 52 causeway near Atlantic City, improving a key link to the southern Jersey Shore tourist region.

NJDOT spokesman Tim Greeley says the $251 million project has been boosted by $70 million in AARA funds and will create 500 new construction jobs throughout its three-year duration. As of now, there are around 120 workers on site.

The project will replace two existing lift bridges at each end of the causeway with fixed spans, as well as make additional improvements to linking roads. The second phase will also eventually create a new visitor’s center, multi-use sidewalks for bicyclists and pedestrians and several fishing piers.

NJDOT is investing $469 million in ARRA funding in more than 40 road and bridge construction and design projects. The $145 million first phase of the reconstruction project began in October 2006 and included the replacement of 1.2 miles of the interior portion of the 76-year-old causeway from Elbow Island to Garrett’s Island. The old causeway has been demolished and the new southbound roadway was completed in spring 2009, almost six months ahead of schedule.

Roadway construction for the bridge approaches began in early-September. NJDOT and has reduced Route 52 from two lanes to one lane in each direction. Greeley says plans allow for two lanes to remain open for traffic in each direction during summer months, when the causeway is used by more than 40,000 motorists daily.

Currently, the team is driving piles for the new bridge leading into Ocean City as well as performing excavation and dredging operations in the harbor. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.