Give them points for thinking outside the box. Legislators in the 9th District have come up with a novel way to spend Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funds - building an exit on the Garden State Parkway.
For many years after the CRDA was established in 1984, figuring out ways to spend CRDA money was one of the most popular sports in the state. Casinos contribute 1.25 percent of annual gross revenue to CRDA projects. Public officials throughout New Jersey saw the CRDA funds as a pot just waiting to be raided, and millions of dollars were spent to build art centers, business parks and museums in various towns.
Every one of those projects had someone behind it arguing that it was worthwhile. And every one of them spent money that could have been used to revitalize Atlantic City.
In 2010, when Gov. Chris Christie and the state Legislature made a commitment to help re-energize the casino industry and the city by streamlining regulations and creating the Tourism District, one of the key strategies was to keep CRDA money in Atlantic City.
Now, just two years later, Republican lawmakers Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, whose district includes Galloway Township and Port Republic, have introduced legislation that would allow CRDA funds to be spent outside the city - to build a full parkway interchange at Exit 40, where the parkway crosses Route 30, also known as the White Horse Pike.
There's nothing wrong with Connors, Rumpf and Gove pushing for that interchange. At recent hearings on parkway projects at nearby Exits 41 and 44, residents told the New Jersey Turnpike Authority that a full interchange at Route 30 is overdue.
Those residents argued that easier access from the parkway could help businesses along Route 30. And, although Route 30 is one of the main roads into Atlantic City, currently there is no way to access the road if you're driving north on the parkway. (Locals drive past Route 30 and turn around at the parkway rest area near Jimmie Leeds Road.)
Likewise, if you're driving west from Atlantic City on Route 30, there's no way to head south on the parkway and pick up the Atlantic City Expressway.
So a full interchange is very likely a good idea, but giving CRDA money to the Turnpike Authority to build it is not.
The authority has already said it will take another look at traffic studies near Exit 40 to see if a full exchange makes sense. The authority is well-practiced at evaluating such proposals, and, if they are warranted, it has a healthy stream of toll revenue to pay for them.
The last thing we need to do is start raiding CRDA funds again for projects outside Atlantic City.
So please, lawmakers, in efforts to be responsive to your constituents, feel free to lobby the Turnpike Authority. But keep your hands off CRDA funds.