No Magic Fix for Summer Traffic Woes in Ship Bottom

By Gina G. Scala | Jul 31, 2019

Ship Bottom — The state Department of Transportation’s final phase of the Causeway expansion and rehabilitation project can’t come soon enough for those hoping it will alleviate the traffic gridlock that Long Beach Island, specifically that stalling northbound in Ship Bottom, is experiencing this summer.

“It’s not even getting off the Island,” Mayor William Huelsenbeck acknowledged recently. “It’s if you want to go north, you have to wait in line. People are stuck on this end of the Island.”

A trifecta of traffic and weather events earlier this summer drove home that point as Ship Bottom saw the effects of a fatal accident in the area of 11th Street and Long Beach Boulevard that snarled traffic in the borough and farther south for more than four hours; a July 6 power outage on Route 72 westbound that further impacted seasonal turnover traffic that began in the morning and extended at least as far south as the Acme Market in Long Beach Township; and finally, a late-night, high-volume thunderstorm July 11 that shut down access to this barrier island.

But the idea that accidents and weather can impact travel time isn’t anything new, and it’s not unique to the Island. Still, those events shouldn’t be discounted as out-of-the-ordinary.

“On a perfect day, when there’s no rain, no accidents, it’s bumper-to-bumper,” Joe Valyo, a councilman for the borough and its emergency management coordinator, said earlier this month.

Huelsenbeck believes if the DOT had already undertaken the project to reconfigure the Causeway Circle into a square at the Arlington Beach Club, a new condo complex that opened earlier this year where a long-vacant gas station was previously located, the borough would have better traffic flow and thus, better traffic control. The state’s plans call for the widening of approximately 3,000 feet of Eighth and Ninth streets where they intersect with Barnegat and Central avenues and Long Beach Boulevard.

Squaring off the beach club property will make room for traffic pattern changes on Eighth and Ninth streets, the entrance and exit roadways for LBI from Route 72. It also will change the traffic flow on Central Avenue from one-way to two-way, and allow southbound traffic on Long Beach Boulevard all the way through the borough.

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 will be turned into a two-way street. Left traffic 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-foot-wider shoulder.

“Five traffic signals will be reconstructed and a new traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Eighth Street and Long Beach Boulevard,” Stephen Schapiro, deputy director of communications for the DOT, has said.

In addition to the road work, a new storm drainage system and new outfalls will be installed in an effort to reduce frequent flooding along Route 72 where it intersects with Barnegat and Central avenues and the Boulevard, according to Shapiro.

That work, along with safety and operational issues on Route 72 where it intersects with Marsha Drive in Stafford Township, is expected to begin next year with a summer 2022 completion date, he said.

John Hay, a Ship Bottom resident who attended the July 23 borough council meeting looking for a solution to the traffic congestion, said something needs to be done now to improve traffic flow.

“It took an hour to go from one end of the borough to the other. I saw no cops (helping) with traffic control,” Hay said regarding the traffic issues the borough experienced around the 4th of July holiday. “When you dig up a road for work, you have possibly two cops on site for the duration for safety. Where were the cops to open up traffic?”

He blamed the ill-timing of traffic signals along the Boulevard as part of the problem, something he has in common with Councilman Tom Tallon.

“They’re out of sync,” Tallon agreed, noting it takes a while for the traffic signals to recycle their synchronicity after emergency personnel remotely change traffic signals when warranted. “The (police) chief assures me they’re in sync, but I have the same problem.”

The issue is the frequent need for emergency personnel to go through town, according to Valyo.

“Every 15 minutes you hear a siren,” he said, noting all traffic, including emergency services, must come through Ship Bottom. “For every light they change, it takes several minutes for that to cycle through so the lights are all in sync.”

Hay disagreed, saying he traveled from one end of the borough to the other at 6 a.m. on July 23 and the traffic signals were still out of whack.

“There were no emergency changes,” he said, “and the lights still weren’t in sync.”

There are other factors in the growing traffic debate in Ship Bottom, the gateway community to the Island, and for many long-time residents, seasonal homeowners and summer visitors it began after Superstorm Sandy with changes in the size and scope of homes that could accommodate more people. The preferred mode of transportation: cars. The result: traffic.

“People are going the wrong way on Barnegat Avenue,” Huelsenbeck said of motorists who don’t want to sit in the traffic getting off the Island so they opt for what was once a shortcut to the outbound Causeway near the CVS.

With the increased volume of people and cars on the Island, there are no short cuts to traveling through Ship Bottom. Taking back roads and alternate routes once known almost exclusively to locals or long-time visitors is only adding to the problem. That includes taking the first available right onto Shore Avenue as the Causeway comes into Ship Bottom.

The increased number of speeding cars coming off the Causeway, down Shore Avenue and turning left onto 10th Street has presented such a significant safety concern in the area that residents have attended the last two borough council meetings looking for help.

“I’ve seen an increase in police (presence),” Victor DiIorio, a 10th Street resident, said July 23. “It’s appreciated, but I haven’t seen much improvement. I know it’s not a quick fix. I don’t have the answer.”

At the June 25 borough council meeting, DiIorio’s neighbors recommended installing speed bumps, but Huelsenbeck said that might not be a viable option.

“The engineer said the fastest thing to do is line it (the street),” the mayor said. “We’re trying to do something for this summer.”

Since 10th Street is such a wide road, lining it would help narrow the driving lines and decrease the speed of motorists, Huelsenbeck said. Curbing the corners of the roadway is another way to narrow 10th Street and force motorists to slow down, he added.

Council President Ed English suggested closing off Shore Avenue to oncoming motorists, but the mayor said the DOT wouldn’t approve of such a plan.

“If someone gets killed, they’ll do it,” English said.

— Gina G. Scala

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