Stafford Township — For years, a welcome sign visible from the Causeway and located at the southern entrance to Cedar Bonnet Island drew attention to the smaller side of the inhabited sedge island as many motorists sped by on their way to Long Beach Island. The sign is gone, taken down years ago when the project to expand and rehab the Causeway began, and lost to time.
It’s that project, or at least a portion of that project, that has left some residents of the area feeling lost and concerned. The Causeway project is nearing the beginning of the final phase with no written plan to include a sidewalk on the side south of Cedar Bonnet Island so residents have a safe way to access the new sidewalks on the northside of the rehabbed old Causeway.
“When the bridge project was in the planning stage, I attended the meeting and was told there would be two walkways on the bridge, north and south,” Laurie Hens, a longtime Cedar Bonnet Island resident, said in a letter to local and state officials. “They only put in one walkway and that is on the north side of Cedar Bonnet Island, and we do not have a safe way to access this walkway on foot.”
Hens and her neighbors, some of whom took the walk with her Tuesday morning before the rain rolled through, must walk in the sole traffic lane of the narrow two-way tunnel road that goes under the Causeway. There are two traffic signals, one for motorists and one for pedestrians/bicyclists, at the north end by the Dutchman’s Restaurant and on the south end near the front yard of a Cedar Bonnet Island residence.
The traffic signals are so long some motorists and pedestrians/bicyclists go against the light and come face-to-face with oncoming traffic that does have the green light, Hens said.
“We are looking for a way to get to the bridge walkway safely,” she wrote in her letter, saying she’s been told the state has the money to include a sidewalk on the south side of Cedar Bonnet Island to improve traffic safety for its residents and that there will be a meeting to discuss how that’s going to happen.
In preparation for that meeting, Hens is canvassing the neighborhood with a petition asking Stafford Township officials, the state of New Jersey and the Route 72/Manahawkin Bay Bridge Project to put in a safe walkway for residents living on the south side of Cedar Bonnet. There are 47 lots on the south side. Of that figure, six are empty, but three are going to be built upon soon, Hens said. Twenty-one of the homes are lived in year ’round, she added.
Hens has been working on improving traffic safety on the south side for years and is anxious her concerns aren’t being considered ahead of the beginning of the final phase of the project, despite being told the work is expected to be included under the scope of work on Long Beach Island. DOT officials did not respond to inquiries as of press deadline.
Major Work Remains In Ship Bottom
Work on expanding and rehabbing the Causeway, the only access road on and off Long Beach Island, began in 2013. It’s expected to continue through 2022 with the next major piece of the nine-year project to begin sometime next year. That phase, which has been referred to by state Department of Transportation officials as the final phase, will address safety and operational issues at the Route 72/Marsha Drive intersection in Stafford Township, as well as operational and drainage improvements in Ship Bottom, the gateway to LBI.
In January, the Ship Bottom Borough Council approved a resolution authorizing an agreement with the state of New Jersey that paved the way for the final phase of the $312 million federally funded project. Resolution 2019-30, approved Jan. 22, notes the improvements will affect certain roadways maintained by the borough; the agreement prevents future legal and maintenance problems in those areas.
The final phase of the DOT’s multi-year project calls for the reconfiguration of the Causeway circle into a square. The Arlington Beach Club condo complex marks the area in question. The work zone is located along the western property line of the complex and Long Beach Boulevard, the main thoroughfare on the barrier island.
Squaring off the beach club property makes room for the traffic pattern changes on Eighth and Ninth streets, the entrance and exit roadways for LBI from Route 72. It also changes the traffic flow on Central Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard. The DOT’s proposed improvements in Ship Bottom have long included converting a section of the Boulevard into a two-way road at the site of the Arlington Beach Club, once the site of a gas station.
Central Avenue is currently a one-way road southbound between Third and 11th streets in Ship Bottom before motorists come to the traffic circle. It’s this area that would be turned into a two-way street. Left turns at Central Avenue will be prohibited at the intersection with Eighth and Ninth streets. Other improvements to the roadways include widening the streets by 13 feet to provide for an additional lane of traffic, an additional 3 feet for the inside shoulder and a new 8-feet-wider shoulder, according to DOT officials.
Ship Bottom is responsible for roughly $4 million for the water and sewer work included in the project, according to Kathleen Flanagan, chief financial officer for the borough. The money is earmarked to replace the underground infrastructure, she said.
In 2017, state transportation officials announced plans to include a new drainage system comprised of underground gravity flow pipes. The pipes are anticipated to be installed along Eighth and Ninth streets from Long Beach Boulevard to the bay. In making the announcement, the DOT nixed a pump station originally planned as part of the Causeway project. State transportation officials said the new system would direct runoff to two new, separate outfall locations, providing operational redundancy. If one location is backed up or malfunctions in any way, state officials have said, it would not cause the remaining outfall to flood. The proposed system would cost less to build and maintain, according to transportation officials.
The precise timing of the work is subject to change due to weather or other factors. Motorists are encouraged to check the DOT’s traffic information website, 511nj.org, for construction updates and real-time travel information, and for DOT news on Twitter @NJDOT_info.
— Gina G. Scala