Tilton Road in Northfield has been called the “million-dollar mile” for its many restaurants and businesses.
But if drivers had to bestow a name on the rugged, hole-strewn patch of road itself, it would be of a far different nature.
Atlantic County has been refurbishing and repaving sections of Tilton Road, which stretches from Northfield through Egg Harbor, Hamilton and Galloway townships, since as far back as 2001. But that last — and by many accounts, worst — stretch of road between Fire Road and Route 9 is finally scheduled to be paved this spring and summer.
And for many drivers, residents and business owners, it could not come soon enough.
“It’s like a washboard out there,” said Chris Bishop, an employee at the Hair Experts salon. “It’s terrible. And I don’t think they’re going to pay for the repairs for the cars from the damage over all those years.”
Since the first project at the five-way intersection of Tilton, Shore and Mill roads in Northfield a dozen years ago, Atlantic County has completed $7.5 million in paving and construction projects along the almost 10-mile-long road, including paving projects in Egg Harbor Township in 2002 and 2009 and parts of Northfield in 2003 and 2008, as well as several signal and bike lane improvements.
“It’s an ongoing project,” said county engineer Joe D’Abundo. “It’s an expensive highway to maintain. With the amount of traffic, it constantly requires we upgrade it.”
The stretch in Northfield will be the last to be paved, D’Abundo said. One major issue, he said, was a lack of drainage basins that created pooling and flooding, leading to a $1.2 million drainage project currently under way.
Another issue is the work that utility companies have to complete beneath the roadway before any paving can begin.
“We’ve gone out to bid on the paving work,” D’Abundo said of the project, estimated at about $1.5 million. “The gas company (South Jersey Gas) is still finishing their work out there. Hopefully, it will be done within the month and the contract will be awarded.”
The work itself should last about 3 months, D’Abundo said, with complete concrete curb replacement to take place before the paving begins.
Northfield Mayor Vince Mazzeo said “many residents would complain about the conditions, and about the time frame of when it’s going to be paved.”
But the county has been in contact with the city about the upcoming paving work, and Mazzeo was optimistic.
“It will be a lot better driving experience for residents,” Mazzeo said, “and for visitors to the shore” — and the choppy section of Tilton does happen to end at a welcome sign on Route 9 that reads, “Northfield, Gateway to the Shore.”
Drivers of Tilton Road, meanwhile, were not short on words to describe it.
“It’s just a mess,” said Elaine Herron, of Egg Harbor Township. “I don’t use the road very often. I try to stay away from it.”
The recent utility and drainage work has caused delays and backups, said Rich Cohen, of Egg Harbor Township, while Jack Feinberg, of Ventnor, said workers sometimes fail to leave lane openings to enter his law firm’s parking lot.
“It’s been a nightmare for businesses since they started work,” Feinberg said — but despite all that, he added that the drainage work needed to be done. “You’d see individuals coming down the street way too fast, way out of control, hitting patches (or) rainwater in puddles, and you’d see them start to veer.”
Business owners and employees had no kind words for Tilton Road — either its condition or the way that drivers in both directions must use a middle lane to make a left turn, a design commonly known as a “suicide lane.” That alignment will not change following the paving.
“It’s ridiculous, seriously,” said Hot Bagels & More employee Megan Stevens, of Egg Harbor Township. “I stay on Tilton Road all day. I hate to go through all that traffic trying to make a left. ... I’ve gotten at least two flats since they started, either because of potholes or (changed lanes).”
Jerry Eget, owner of The Cigar Boxx, summed up his response in one word: “Finally!”
“It’s terrible,” Eget said, “and it’s been a long time.”
At Hair Experts, Bishop, of Galloway Township, said no other road comes close to Tilton in terms of its condition.
“I feel people are just not coming this way because of the road,” she said. “I think we’re losing business.”
“I can’t wait until it’s finished,” added fellow employee JoAnne Benjamin. “And neither can the rest of Northfield, Linwood and Egg Harbor Township.”
So as work progresses, drivers must deal with the inconveniences of the very work they have been waiting for. Such is the routine of roadwork, even as necessary as this one.
“Everything takes time,” Stevens said, understandingly. “We’re all going to complain either way.”
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