Regulars at The Crab Trap stood in the restaurant's foyer Monday, waiting for the doors to open at 11 a.m.
Lunch time. The daily routine, but something was different: the road outside.
"I went down the wrong street," a woman said. "It was difficult to get here."
The Somers Point circle was officially eliminated Monday, bringing an end to 70-plus years of circular driving and uncertain merging, and leaving lifelong Somers Point drivers and GPS devices confused. The circle elimination marks another point in the progress of the Route 52 causeway project, scheduled for completion in 2012. In the circle's place, traffic signals now operate.
Workers checked the stop lights Monday. Police officers directed traffic. Construction crews sprayed white signs and arrows on the pavement, creating travel options - left, right, straight - where none previously existed.
The construction is affecting businesses located near the intersection. Circle Liquor lost its 70-year namesake. Half of Point Diner's parking lot was blocked by construction barrels and orange tape as a backhoe chewed the ground in front of the restaurant. Crab Trap's owners were forced to move the restaurant's sign 4 feet from the road to accommodate a utility pole.
Ken Wallace, whose family has owned the restaurant for 40 years, expects the construction to chip away business in the coming weeks and months. Long-term, he does not foresee a problem.
"I think some people are going to think it's too much of a hassle to drive here, due to all the construction," Wallace said.
Local residents are optimistic, but sentimental about the circle removal.
"The circle works both ways," said Ocean City resident Duke Spitzer, who was eating at Point Diner with his wife, Nancy Fox. "If people knew how to drive on it, it would be a great thing. But people don't know how to drive on it, and there's lots of accidents. My thoughts are still out on replacing the circle."
Fox has seen traffic circles succeed in other places, including Germany. Visually, she enjoys circles. Traffic concerns her.
"I can't imagine at this moment how those red lights are going to serve in the summer time when we get all the tourist traffic," Fox said.
The project will connect MacArthur Boulevard, Shore Road, the Route 52 causeway and Somers Point-Mays Landing Road. The circle elimination is part of the $251 million second phase - which includes replacing the causeway bridges and improving MacArthur Boulevard in Somers Point.
Future segments of the project include a new visitor's center, multiuse sidewalks and fishing piers.
Andy Previti used the traffic circle for more than a half-century. Now, the circle is a piece of yesterday, the pear trees and lush grass gone, a road there instead. Previti thinks Ocean City's tourism has suffered due to the construction. Because of the trucks and barrels and blinking lights, he avoids the city as much as possible. As the project nears its end, Previti says, he will be more likely to travel to Ocean City.
"Naturally, you become accustomed to things the way they are, and you don't like to see change, but change is for the good, usually ... hopefully," Previti said.
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