Summer is almost halfway over, and the back-to-school sales are starting, but at least one thing is unchanged: Tilton Road in Northfield still has not been repaved.

A federally funded, $1.5 million project for the last remaining stretch of Tilton Road in Atlantic County in need of repaving and refurbishing originally was expected to begin earlier this summer.

The stretch of road known as the "million-dollar mile" for its many businesses has long been the bane of drivers who must navigate its pocked pavement, and locals were relieved in the spring to learn that paving was about to start.

But a combination of utility work, limited contractors available after Hurricane Sandy and a delay in contract approval by the state has pushed the beginning of work deep into summer. County officials are optimistic, however, that work will kick off next month.

"The reason it is the way it is is because the contractors all went up north (after Sandy) because of the devastation the storm brought," Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said.

Utility companies also were busy with Sandy restoration, delaying preliminary utility work along Tilton Road until late in the winter and spring - leading to construction and delays without any improvements being done on the road itself.

"But the motoring public doesn't want to hear that," Levinson said. "All they know is that it's inconvenient. And I say we're doing all we can do. What sense is there paving it (first) if they're just going to dig it up again for utilities?"

County Engineer Joseph D'Abundo said the county is waiting on the state Department of Transportation to approve an inspection contract before work begins. The DOT recently approved a $215,000 federal grant for inspection work, and DOT spokesman Steve Shapiro said that federal requirements must be met before approval.

"We did receive a letter from the county earlier this month, and we told them more documents would be needed before we approve it," Shapiro said "It's a federally funded project, and there's a lot of paperwork that goes with that. ... Once we get everything, we can move forward."

The county also needed DOT approval for the $1.44 million contract with Arawak Paving Co., of Hammonton, for the paving work.

The late spring/early summer start date "was our general plan, but that wasn't at the rate the DOT wanted to move," D'Abundo said. "If you get any federal funding, you have to go through a process. We move at their pace. ... It just so happened that the DOT took so long with their paperwork that it kept pace with all the utility work."

D'Abundo said he expects to have freeholder approval for the final inspection contract by early August. The work would take about three months - so assuming a mid-to late August start time, it would end around Thanksgiving. Concrete curbs also have to be completely replaced before paving begins.

Atlantic County has completed $7.5 million in paving and construction projects along the almost 10-mile road since the first project at the five-way intersection of Tilton, Shore and Mill roads in Northfield in 2001.

Other sections in Egg Harbor, Galloway and Hamilton townships also have been redone since 2001.

Before any further work could be done along Tilton Road in Northfield, a $1.2 million drainage project had to be completed because of a lack of drainage basins that led to pooling and flooding.

Business owners along the road were just happy that paving would happen - whenever it starts.

"It has got to get done," Ryan Klaiss, a salesman at Jester's Playhouse, said. "Tilton Road is in kind of a shambles."

"I love Tilton Road, but it's in bad shape right now," Honey Tree Natural Food Store owner Ron Groff said. "Obviously we're glad, but what took so long? But it will be great when it's done. We need a nice smooth road."

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