The next phase of the Route 52 Causeway Project between Somers Point and Ocean City will bring a whole lot of extras -- from bike paths to fishing piers.
Bridge To Somewhere The next phase of the Route 52 Causeway Project between Somers Point and Ocean City will bring a whole lot of extras -- from bike paths to fishing piers. By Michael Pritchard
cap: How the new bridge and fishing pier is expected to look once completed. cap: Rendering of 9th Street entrance. -->
With a tight state budget, bad times in the economy and a general slowdown of business throughout the region, this may not be the best time to be banking on the future. But for two southern New Jersey towns -- Ocean City and Somers Point -- the future took a big step forward last week. With funds in hand from the government's massive stimulus package, the New Jersey Department of Transportation went out to bid for the second phase of reconstruction of the Route 52 Causeway (better known as the 9th St. Bridge).
The about $400 million project, one of the largest in state history, has already turned the once sleepy little causeway into a modern four-lane highway arching high above Egg Harbor Bay. The first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by December 2009. The second phase, however, may have the most impact on the two cities as it calls for elimination of the traffic circle in Somers Point at the base of the causeway, and calls for construction of a new entrance way to Ocean City, including streetscaping and sidewalks, and extensive work along MacArthur Boulevard in Somers Point. The two draw bridges that cap both of the causeway's entrance points are also scheduled to be replaced.
|How the new bridge and fishing pier is expected to look once completed.|
The scope of the project might strike fear into the minds of local drivers, especially on a Friday night in July. But so far, the project has caused no detours and the causeway has remained opened. State officials say the second phase won't change that and no detours or major closings are planned until it is completed in 2012. Ocean City officials, who depend on the causeway as a major entry point for tourists, say they have faith the state can pull it off.
"The state has been very accommodating and has really worked with us," says Jim Rutala, business administrator for Ocean City. "They've kept four lanes of traffic open throughout the summer seasons and always for big weekends whether it's the October street sale or Christmas weekend. They've assured us that they'll keep traffic moving even as the second phase is being done."
Somers Point officials are also confident that a major thoroughfare for tourists running through their town won't become a parking lot in the summer.
"The way they have done this project in phases and how fast they've been doing the construction is amazing," says Wes Swain, business administrator for Somers Point. "We've been very impressed."
For drivers, the biggest change will be replacing the drawbridges. Officials for the state Department of Transportation say that construction (budgeted at about $265 million) will proceed much as the building of the causeway has gone. New bridges will be built alongside the existing ones. When completed, the existing bridges will be replaced. The causeway will not have to be shut during the process.
For locals, however, the replacing of the causeway itself may have the least impact.
"This is much more than a new bridge," says Rutala. "It includes boat ramps, fishing piers and an amazing bike path that's 10 feet wide and protected. We're going to have a new visitor's center which will be right at road level, which is 30 feet higher than before -- meaning it will have a striking view of the whole city."
Recently added to the plan is a new look for the entrance to Ocean City. Conceptual plans call for new streetscaped medians and colorful banners. On the Somers Point side of the project, a streetscaped path along MacArthur Blvd., which connects with Laurel Drive and the Somers Point Garden State Parkway entrance is also planned. The walkway will include decorative lighting similar to the lighting on Bay Avenue, says Swain. A fishing pier will be built under the causeway, similar to the pier now located on the Longport-Somers Point causeway, and the city plans to connect its own bike path to the bridge.
|Rendering of 9th Street entrance.|
For Somers Point, of course, the biggest change will be the realignment and removal of the Somers Point traffic Circle.
"There were some initial concerns about the access the businesses on the circle will have," says Swain. "So that led to some people trying to oppose the project. But the state does seem to have addressed that in its plans."
New Jersey has been slowly removing traffic circles, a holdover from the 1920s and '30s when the state experienced much less traffic. At one point there were more than 100 circles in the state.
Ocean City also gets a new visitor's center along the causeway, replacing the existing center. The center, however, will be built to take advantage of the bridges scenic overlook.
The new intersection will accommodate all existing traffic movements. Traffic signals and dedicated turn lanes the intersection and its approaches have been designed to improve the flow of traffic, especially at peak travel times.
With the long awaited colossal marvel of concrete glistening in pre-Memorial Day weekend sun, spectators, local residents and reporters gathered at the waterfront of John F. Kennedy Park in Somers Point to celebrate the grand opening of the largest project ever undertaken by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
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