SOMERS POINT — Public agencies reviewed more than a half-billion dollars worth of construction projects Tuesday that will create jobs and stimulate the Atlantic County economy during the next two years.
Dennis Levinson, Atlantic County executive, said past efforts to keep taxes low have allowed him and the county freeholders to combat the county’s 15 percent jobless rate with spending.
“We decided that in these extraordinary times, let’s spend the money now,” Levinson said, citing Depression-era programs that “put people to work because they weren’t working and they had families to take care of.”
He said the county is spending $36 million on bridge and roadwork and has committed $18 million to Atlantic Cape Community College and $24 million to the Atlantic County Institute of Technology.
“I know that sounds like a lot of money being spent, but it’s being spent for construction jobs, good jobs,” he said. “I don’t believe anyone can challenge what we’re using it for.”
A lot more money is funding projects — $190 million this year by the South Jersey Transportation Authority alone — by other agencies represented at the Greater Atlantic City Chamber’s annual Major Construction Projects Forum, which was held at Greate Bay Country Club.
Samuel Donelson, SJTA director of engineering, said the authority is planning a 40,000-square-foot traffic management center near Atlantic City International Airport that would oversee traffic on the Atlantic City Expressway, southern parts of the Garden State Parkway and area high-traffic roads. The center would also house a centralized 911 call center serving county municipalities.
SJTA’s big current project, its $90 million westbound expressway widening, includes installation of cameras to monitor all of the roadway from the traffic center for better customer service, he said.
At the airport, a $25 million fire and rescue building is expected to move forward with federal funding this summer, Donelson said, and a $27 million expansion of the airport terminal will increase its size from 110,000 to 185,000 square feet.
A 135- to 150-room hotel is in development at the airport, he said, and $30 million in upgrades and maintenance is planned for bridges, intersections and the Atlantic City Expressway Connector tunnel.
Peter Mora, president of Atlantic Cape Community College, said Rutgers University will construct a classroom building on the college’s Mays Landing campus for students to finish their bachelor’s degree with the university.
The community college’s $46 million in projects includes a $16 million science and technology building going to bid in August, and a $10 million hospitality study center at its Atlantic City campus, Mora said.
ACCC is also involved with what is expected to be the county’s biggest project in the decade ahead, the Next Generation Aviation Research Park adjacent to the airport in Egg Harbor Township. The college is developing an airport control tower simulator and will offer a two-year degree in aviation.
Gordon Dahl, executive director of the South Jersey Economic Development District, estimated the NextGen park — currently getting $7.5 million in infrastructure improvements, with contracts for its first building expected before year’s end — would eventually involve $300 million in construction not included in the forum’s figures for the next couple of years.
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey is committed to $57 million worth of new projects in the next few years, led by a new 25,000-square-foot academic building currently under construction, said Donald Moore, associate vice president of operations.
The college’s Performing Arts Center will be renovated and its aquatic center will be rebuilt for classrooms and offices, he said.
Tom Meehan, director of development for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, echoed Levinson’s call for job-creating spending.
“We need the jobs and we look forward to putting the work out,” he said, before reviewing $112 million in projects funded by the agency the next two years.
Transportation projects alone account for $85 million, chief among them the entryway garage at The Walk in Atlantic City, which also is getting $9 million for its third phase of development, Meehan said.
In the audience of 110 at the forum were many businesspeople scouting for opportunities for their companies.
Dennis Hayes, vice president of CCMS Corp., came down from Colts Neck in Monmouth County to find projects with potential for his construction management services firm.
“It’s nice to know what’s coming down the pike so we can target these things,” Hayes said.
Michelle Howard, Absecon branch manager for blue-collar staffing provider Labor Ready, was looking for future jobs her temporary staff could fill.
“If I know what’s coming along, I can get us involved and find out what the placement opportunities are,” she said.
The chamber estimated the public projects of the agencies — which also include solar and natural gas projects by the Atlantic County Utilities Authority — are worth a total of $833 million, including the $300 expected in the future from NextGen development.
Joe Kelly, chamber president, said a similar event will be held in the fall for private companies to talk about their major capital projects.
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