EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Creating a massive new commercial development isn’t as simple as building a shopping center, opening the doors and welcoming the world.
On its own, the Wal-Mart SuperCenter under construction at the Black Horse Pike and Fire Road will spread out to almost 190,000 square feet of a shopping center to be called Oak Tree Plaza. But the center is also expected to include a Chick-Fil-A and several more businesses for a total of about 250,000 square feet of retail and dining space.
And all the construction and additions going on around the 35-acre center demonstrate how complex a project on that scale can be. Before the businesses open later this year, the roads around them will get at least three new traffic lights, two of which were already in place — but not functioning — as of last week.
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The surrounding roads, which include Old Egg Harbor Road, or Atlantic County Route 687, will also need new traffic and turning lanes. Fire Road, another county-maintained road, will end up five lanes wide at its intersection with the pike outside the center.
Two lanes will turn left onto the westbound state highway, two will head north toward Absecon and one will be reserved for right turns toward Atlantic City, says the county planner, John Peterson.
The intersection of Fire and Old Egg Harbor roads will get one of those new lights, which will create new traffic patterns — including legal left turns onto Fire Road southbound, toward Somers Point.
The project also involves a new road, says the county’s engineer, Mark Shourds. That’s a continuation of Egg Harbor Township’s current Hingston Avenue, which has always dead-ended at Old Egg Harbor Road. Now, there’s a traffic light at the new intersection, and Hingston will run along the eastern edge of the shopping center and out to the pike, also known as U.S. Route 40/322.
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That new intersection is getting another new traffic signal, and Mayor Sonny McCullough says that particular red light threatened to bring the whole project to a stop at one point.
The state Department of Transportation “said we won’t allow another traffic light so close to an existing traffic light” at Fire Road, the mayor recalled. “But Wal-Mart said they wouldn’t go ahead unless they had a turning lane.”
Oak Tree Plaza also faced several legal challenges in a history that stretches back more than a decade, but the supports and traffic lights for that new intersection went up last week.
Another addition to the area will be sidewalks surrounding the entire site, a long-closed former headquarters for Atlantic City Electric.
“We anticipate a fair percentage of walkup” and bicycle traffic, said Peterson, the county planner, of a project that borders on several big condo developments. “All the people within a couple blocks will be able to walk up to it.”
The project also includes extensive drainage work, as long sections of pipe on the site demonstrate. But unlike all the new roads and lanes and lights, that will be mostly invisible when the stores open.