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MANTOLOKING, N.J. (AP) — Traffic is rolling once again on a major highway through the storm-damaged Jersey shore.

Route 35 was reopened Friday through Mantoloking, one of the community’s hardest-hit by Superstorm Sandy in October. During the summer months, the highway is the primary north-south route along the immediate coast from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park in Ocean County, with thousands of vehicles a day using it.

“It’s a sign of progress, that we’re moving forward,” said Ginny Donnelly, a real estate agent in neighboring Bay Head, one of the few businesses along the highway that are open. “It’ll make it a lot easier for people south of Mantoloking to get to their homes. It’s a bit of normalcy back in people’s lives.”

Even in the fall and winter months, the shutdown of the highway created great difficulty for residents and business owners in neighboring towns, who were forced into long detours. The storm cut a channel through Mantoloking, which sits on a narrow barrier island between the ocean and Barnegat Bay, severing the community in two.

Emergency repairs filled in that gap and rebuilt a makeshift road along Route 35 until the state Department of Transportation could rebuild the highway. But even after that work, Mantoloking was deemed too heavily damaged to allow traffic through for three months.

Residents won’t be allowed to move back home for several months yet, and many storm-damaged houses still sit exposed. There was a heavy police presence on the highway Friday, with eight Mantoloking officers and nine state troopers preventing motorists from stopping or even pulling to the shoulder. Signs along the roadside warned that anyone venturing onto private property would be arrested.

Side streets remain off-limits to anyone but residents and authorized contractors doing repair work on homes.

Police said the strict measures are necessary to prevent looting, and to protect work crews laboring on both sides of the narrow highway, which is one lane in each direction.

Mantoloking spokesman Chris Nelson said the first day of traffic through the borough went smoothly.

“They pulled a couple people over, but it’s been going very well,” he said. “People are obeying the rules.”

Route 35 is the second busiest highway through the shore after the Garden State Parkway.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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