Surf City Councilman Peter Hartney is calling out N.J. Department of Transportation officials for failing to address questions about the effectiveness of the new storm water system being built at the entrance to Long Beach Island as part of the final phase of the multi-year, federally funded Causeway expansion and rehabilitation project.
Specifically, Hartney reached out to DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti on July 18, explaining he had asked project representatives about the effectiveness of the storm water system on behalf of a Surf City resident and was writing a letter to her because he had received no answer. As of 11:28 a.m. on Aug. 1, Hartney had not heard back from the commissioner’s office or anyone else at the DOT, he said Tuesday.
“I am perplexed,” Hartney wrote in his July missive to Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “The information I am requesting is information which should be readily available as I would hope consideration for and an understanding of the impact on the designed stormwater system on flooding would have been incorporated into the design of the stormwater system.”
Hartney is chair of Surf City’s environmental and public issues committee. That committee, according to his letter, is charged with handling environmental and public issues that do not fall under the scope of other committees.
The storm water system work is part of the final chapter of the $312 million Causeway expansion and rehabilitation project. Work began in 2013 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2024. The final phase also includes work to improve safety and reduce congestion in Stafford Township and Ship Bottom.
“The LBI Causeway project is a public works project so there should be no proprietary issues preventing the information from being shared as the proprietors are the people of New Jersey and the United States since this project is funded with federal monies,” he wrote. “So, you can see why I am perplexed into not having received the requested information.”
Hartney said he had reached out on May 20 to the DOT representative for the project who’s charged with public information and received an out-of-office email with contact for another person.
“My inquiry was immediately sent by our borough administrator to the designated individual,” he wrote. “On May 31, having neither received a reply nor an acknowledgement of my email inquiry, I directly emailed the responsible individual.”
Two weeks later after receiving no response again, Hartney asked 9th District legislators to intervene on his behalf so he could finally provide an answer to the borough resident concerned about the efficacy of the new storm water system in Ship Bottom. A few days later, Vanessa Meades from the DOT’s Office of Government and Community Relations replied to Hartney via email, saying, “I will provide this information shortly.”
Hartney said he never heard back from Meades.
“The only way I can understand the radio silence is that the May meeting of the Island municipalities with the NJDOT regarding the Causeway project and a pledge made by the NJDOT to be more connected to the local community, improve communications and to be transparent in keeping the Island municipalities informed and in the loop was a hollow promise,” he wrote.
Hartney called the lack of action on providing information about the Causeway project counter-intuitive to the DOT’s commitment to communities as “embodied (in the) core values that define the NJDOT as an organization,” and requested that Gutierrez-Scaccetti have “those associated with the LBI Causeway project provide the requested information forthwith without any further delay so that I may provide that information to my constituents as soon as possible since doing so in a timely manner is no longer possible.”
This is not the first time the councilman has taken issue with state transportation officials and the handling of the final phase of the Causeway project. Earlier this year, following a lane closure on Ninth Street in Ship Bottom, Hartney penned an email to to state Sen. Christopher J. Connors, saying “the Department of Transportation really doesn’t care about us.”
The kicker for him and other LBI officials was a message board posting in April on the Garden State Parkway South approaching Barnegat that said, “Route 72 construction, delays expected, plan alternate route.”
He said the Parkway sign “epitomizes their understanding and concern” of the LBI region.
In the aftermath of that incident and shortly before Memorial Day, Island officials received word from the DOT that its contractor, C.J. Hesse, would delay work on Ninth Street (Route 72 East), the sole access road onto LBI from the mainland, until after Labor Day. Instead, it accommodated a request from Ship Bottom officials to conduct road and trunk-line drainage work on Eighth Street (Route 72 West), the only road off the Island.
As a result, the state agency asked for resolutions of support “with the understanding that the NJDOT will need to return to Ninth Street to finish our current construction activities after Labor Day 2022. And with the additional understanding that this schedule modification will require a work extension of Ninth Street construction activities through July 1, 2023,” according to a May email from a state transportation official.
The anticipated hours of work for the summer were set for overnight Monday through Thursday from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and possibly 9 a.m. through 3 p.m., as needed.
In July, a one-day project for general bridge maintenance closed a lane on the Causeway westbound that snarled daytime outbound traffic on the three main arteries leaving the Island for most of the day. Local law enforcement officials weren’t notified of the lane closure until the maintenance work was being done.
The precise timing of the upcoming projects is subject to change due to weather or other factors. Motorists are encouraged to check the DOT traffic information website, 511nj.org, for construction updates and real-time travel updates.
— Gina G. Scala