GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — State lawmakers representing the township want to divert casino reinvestment funds to pay for a full Garden State Parkway interchange at Route 30, but Atlantic City’s state senator opposes the bill.
Both state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and the 9th District lawmakers have lobbied the New Jersey Turnpike Authority for a full interchange at Exit 40 of the parkway.
But the 9th District group, which represents Ocean, Atlantic and Burlington counties, has introduced legislation that would allow funds from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to be diverted outside Atlantic City.
That hasn’t been done since 2010, after Gov. Chris Christie and the state Legislature began a concerted effort to rejuvenate Atlantic City and the casino industry by streamlining regulations and creating the Tourism District. As part of that plan, CRDA money, which had been used in projects throughout the state, was to be kept in Atlantic City.
“The law was changed so that CRDA money would be totally dedicated to Atlantic City, and I am not interested in revisiting that and we will be right back to where we were — where money goes to North Jersey and then the rest of South Jersey and all over the state. The needs of Atlantic City have changed,” Whelan said.
The 9th District bill calling for CRDA funding to be used for the interchange project was first introduced last year and is now before the Senate’s State Government Committee and the Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee in the Assembly.
The bill’s sponsors argue the proposal should not be viewed as a diversion, but as an investment that will improve access to the resort.
“I think this project dovetails completely with what the state is trying to do with Atlantic City,” said state Sen. Chris Connors, R-Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington.
Historically, CRDA money has been used outside of Atlantic City for infrastructure, and Route 30 is part of the key infrastructure serving Atlantic City,” said Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington.
Rumpf added that it would be important to have Whelan’s support because of his instrumental role on the Transportation Committee in the Senate.
“It’s also disheartening not to have his support on this for the residents of Absecon and Galloway,” Rumpf said.
But Connors said his legislative team will push the bill forward with or without Whelan’s help.
Whelan said he doesn’t believe the biggest obstacles to a full interchange project have anything to do with financing.
But Whelan believes that allowing CRDA funding for the project would open the possibility of more CRDA diversions.
“There was much jubilation when all of the CRDA money was dedicated to Atlantic City, and now we’re going to revisit that and peel away money to do an interchange located whatever distance it is from Atlantic City. I don’t see reopening that and slicing away money to do that,” Whelan said.
Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said he is aware of the 9th District team’s legislation, but he does not believe it will see the light of day.
Amodeo said he agrees that the interchange is needed, but Route 30 is not located in Atlantic City’s Tourism District. Amodeo said he is more concerned with keeping CRDA money and the future of gambling in the resort.
“The governor gave us five years to work with Atlantic City and I would not deviate from that plan,” he said.
Last year, residents called for the addition of a full interchange at Exit 40 and following that outcry, along with input from elected officials, NJTA began the process of considering a project at Exit 40, agency spokesman Tom Feeney said in August.
As part of consideration for the full interchange, NJTA is wrapping up a cost analysis for the potential project. The $110,000 study will consider traffic volumes to analyze the need for the interchange, possible configurations and developing cost estimates for those aspects, Feeney stated.
There are other governments in Atlantic, Ocean and Cape May counties that believe CRDA money should be coming to them as well and it shouldn’t, Whelan said.
Galloway Township Councilman Jim Gorman has supported a full interchange at Route 30, saying that it would help bring business to the area and stimulate the economy.
“I disagree with Whelan on this one,” said Gorman, a Democrat.
“This also could be the project to save the Marina District in Atlantic City. CRDA money should be used on this because it is another route that goes right into Atlantic City,” Gorman said.
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