Imagine an Atlantic City so easy to navigate that sky bridges and overhead walkways create a pedestrian system that negates the need to wait for traffic signals to cross the street.
Or imagine arriving at the Atlantic City International Airport where there’s no need to call for a cab or take a jitney to the city. Instead, make the 15-mile trip on a monorail soaring overhead without the holdup of traffic signals or the hassle of scheduling a ride. Your luggage? No need to drag it alone. It will be moved for you straight from your flight to your casino destination.
Those are just some of the ideas coming out of an Atlantic City Regional Transportation Master Plan commissioned by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The three-volume plan runs hundreds of pages and cost more than $4 million by the time the report was released in 2009. It came at a time when the resort faced tourism growth that officials said would require significant transportation improvements to relieve congestion.
While the study was being completed, the CRDA even developed a website devoted to the plan from which visitors could take a 15-question survey about their transportation use. Among the questions: Do you experience roadway congestion on your trips to Atlantic City? How serious a problem is traffic congestion in the town or city in which you live? Identify three challenges your town or city would face given the impending growth planned for Atlantic City.
Today, however, few of the improvements have been made, and those that have seen progress are not the envelope-pushing multi-million-dollar ideas that would transform the city. Funding constraints and significant declines in the revenues taken in by casinos have left the grandiose ideas and the $4 million study largely untouched.
Sam Donelson, acting executive director of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which worked on the study with the CRDA, said that’s not because the ideas weren’t worth pursuing, but the study was proposed — unfortunately — just as the city’s transportation needs were changing.
“The ideas there are good ones, but they weren’t made for the region we have today,” he said. “The plan is definitely useable, but things obviously have to be tweaked.”
While some of the 34 projects detailed in the plan could be considered game-changers for the city, many of the near-term initiatives described are far more mundane, though they could significantly improve the region’s transportation network. Many, however, already had their own timelines or implementation hurdles discussed by the host agencies at the time the report was completed.
A plan to make Atlantic and Pacific avenues each one-way streets — an idea long debated in the city — is listed as a near-term initiative. Other projects listed involve outside agencies such as the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. Creating a full interchange at Exit 40 on the Garden State Parkway — an idea that recently re-emerged following debate from residents — is listed as a long-term project.
“One size does not fit all for signal timing in Atlantic City,” the study states. “Also, traffic volumes related to several sporting and entertainment events scheduled in the city justify a need for real-time traffic monitoring and signal-timing changes.”
Plans for a centralized emergency dispatch headquarters are also laid out in the plan. In 2009, those plans got as far as discussions about building a multimillion-dollar facility on the grounds of the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township.
The regionalized center would have eliminated the need for individualized dispatching centers in municipalities and likely relocated operators to a centralized location. It could have also had the ability to synchronize traffic signals to create optimum traffic-flow with patterns that could change for events, weekend and summer traffic.
The SJTA hasn’t abandoned plans for the center but officials have said that internal funding constraints and two denied applications for federal funding mean it isn’t likely to happen in the immediate future.
Officials say while some of the large-scale ideas haven’t seen action, the plan is still used as a general guide. Last year, CRDA approved a $300,000 fund reservation for new signs on the Atlantic City Expressway Connector, an idea that stemmed from the regional transportation plan.
The plan suggested that the current system of lettered exits ranging from letters A through H is confusing, particularly because some letters are skipped.
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