LOWER TOWNSHIP — Mayor Mike Beck said it’s something you would expect to see at Bayside State Prison.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew invoked the image of the Major Deegan Expressway.
Both Beck and Van Drew are talking about hundreds of feet of shiny new chain-link fence going up along Sandman Boulevard that’s part of a $5.2 million refurbishment of the approach road to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
It’s the second such fencing project to come under attack at the shore this year. A fence put up around the Great Egg Harbor Bridge designed to deter terrorists drew criticism for its cost and appearance. Most of it was subsequently removed. This one is shorter and does not include barbed wire on top, but still has drawn criticism.
“We’ve certainly had some complaints and we agree with our constituents. It’s not the right fence for the area. It gives it almost a Bayside Prison look,” Beck said.
Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, has written two letters to the Delaware River & Bay Authority, which runs the ferry service and is doing the road project, to find out if a fence is really necessary.
“This is not the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx,” Van Drew wrote in one of them.
Van Drew wants to know how many feet of fence are being installed and at what cost. The DRBA gets most of its revenue from tolls charged at the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
“Tax money is hard to come by. Toll money is hard to come by. Times are tight. There are a lot of things we could do with that money,” Van Drew said.
Beck said he has forwarded complaints from constituents to DRBA Executive Director Scott Green. He wants the fence replaced with something more fitting, such as a wooden stockade or split-rail fence, for a roadway that was recently made part of the new Bayshore Heritage Byway. The scenic route along the Delaware Bay is being promoted and the township is hoping to use it to boost tourism.
Beck said the road goes past a large vineyard but the fence takes away from what could be a great view. To put the fence up, a lot of trees and brush were removed and this left bare dirt in front of it in places.
The mayor was happy to hear the DRBA is willing to plant shrubs in front of it, but he is still pushing for a more rustic look.
“If we could put some split-rail up it would give it a bucolic setting,” Beck said.
Jim Salmon, a spokesman for the DRBA, said the authority had no choice on the fencing since federal funding is helping pay for the road project. The DRBA received $2.3 million from a federal discretionary fund for ferry services.
“We got federal money and it’s a federal requirement to have right-of-way fencing along a highway using federal monies,” Salmon said. “It will fade and get duller. It will wear. Once we seed everything, it will look a lot better.”
Salmon released Federal Highway Administration specifications for chain-link fences showing how the project conforms to the requirements. He noted a public hearing on the project was held in 2008 before the project got held up for several years.
He also said there was existing fencing, in a state of disrepair, along the roadway but much of that could have been hidden by trees and brush since major roadwork had not been done in several decades. He said the only reason the vineyard can be seen now is because vegetation was removed, something the vineyard and Cape May County, which owns the land the vineyard leases, agreed to.
“There was a fence there to begin with. There’s always been a fence there,” Salmon said.
Van Drew asked for details on the fence costs but has not received them yet. Salmon said the figures are being compiled but the fence is a small part of the overall $5.2 million project that includes repaving, adding traffic and bicycle lanes, rehabilitating three intersections, refurbishing a railroad crossing, paving, drainage, signage and other improvements.
Salmon also noted there is a major difference between this fence and the Great Egg Harbor Bridge project. He said the chain- link being installed is similar to what people put around a swimming pool.
“That one had barbed wire on top and it was restricting areas where people were fishing,” Salmon said.
The bridge fence was also designed to deter terrorists. Salmon said this one is mainly to limit incursions on the road from all-terrain vehicles, wildlife, and pedestrians.
Van Drew also asked who would maintain the fencing. Salmon said the DRBA would do that.
Contact Richard Degener: