UPPER TOWNSHIP — On a March afternoon, Ocean Drive in Whale Beach seems deserted. On any sunny summer weekend, though, it’s almost overwhelmed.
That could be said of most of the Jersey Shore, but here, along a narrow two-lane road, parked cars line both sides, while a steady stream of motor vehicles, joggers, pedestrians and bicyclists competes for scarce space while avoiding the families heading to the beach.
Persistent speeding just makes things worse, Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster said.
There are no sidewalks in the area, or in the neighboring north end of Sea Isle City. An 8-foot shoulder is used both for parking and for bikes and pedestrians. It would be difficult to expand the road, with private property on one side and the protective dunes on the other.
One proposal under consideration would eliminate parking on one side of the road and shift traffic to create a 5-foot pedestrian walkway between the parked cars and the tall sand dunes that line the road.
Foster met with Strathmere residents in the meeting room of the Strathmere Volunteer Fire Company last week, and later that day took the concept to officials in Sea Isle.
Based on the reaction two Strathmere residents brought to the March 12 meeting of the Township Committee, Foster will have some convincing to do to get residents on board with the plan.
Strathmere resident Ted Kingston argued the proposal does not make sense.
“There’s been concern for some years about the congestion at Whale Beach in the summertime, so everybody was happy when there was a plan to try to rectify it,” Kingston told the committee. “However, this plan that the county has come up with is a disaster.”
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“Unfortunately, in trying to solve this problem, there’s give and take,” said Committeeman Ed Barr. He wants Foster to attend the next committee meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. March 26 at Township Hall, 2100 Tuckahoe Road in Petersburg.
This week, Foster said he was willing to speak at an upcoming meeting but could not commit to March 26. The lane-shift proposal came from NV5, a national consultant firm with offices in Philadelphia hired by the county to look at the issue, he said.
Another recommendation may call for a reduced speed limit. The limit is 35 mph in Strathmere and drops to 25 in Sea Isle, but it’s 40 for most of the area in question.
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The proposal has not come before the Cape May County freeholders for a vote.
At the Monday committee meeting, Kingston argued the idea could build momentum, and be implemented without enough input from residents.
“This snowball’s going to get bigger,” Kingston said. “It’s going to get past the point of no return, and it’s going to get bigger.”
He questioned whether Foster would come to get feedback, or just to tell Upper Township how things would be.
“Sometimes, that’s how government works. We don’t have any jurisdiction over there. We can have input,” Barr said.
Kingston was not the only critic at the Monday meeting.
Linda Bateman, president of the Strathmere Improvement Association, said she has heard some pushback from residents on the plan.
“My phone has been blowing up on this issue,” she said.
She said she was thrilled to hear there may be a public forum.
Ocean Drive runs the length of Cape May County along the barrier islands. The road is known as Commonwealth Boulevard in Strathmere and Landis Avenue in Sea Isle. For most of the stretch along Whale Beach, there is a single line of houses between the road and the wetlands on one side and the beach on the other.
While there is an Upper Township Beach Patrol, there are no lifeguards in this section, and no beach tags required. However crowded the road may be, the beach along this section is usually relatively uncrowded.
It’s often a destination for fishermen and surfers.
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said he likes the restriping proposal.
Desiderio, who is also a freeholder, said before the most recent freeholder meeting he would go along with whatever arrangement suited the residents of Strathmere, but he likes the idea of a continuous route from the north end of the Sea Isle Promenade at 29th Street through Strathmere.