ATLANTIC CITY — Like he does most afternoons, Edward Selva, 26, waited for the jitney near Columbia Avenue to pick him up for work. The Lower Chelsea stop is convenient for the 26-year-old food service worker, who lives nearby.
Selva has lived in the city all his life, and his critiques about the transit system are few.
“Just being more careful, because they be speeding,” he said as he rode the jitney to Harrah’s Resort one weekday in May.
Selva, like many area residents, had differing opinions on how well-connected Atlantic City is. It depends on whom you ask and what you mean.
The city of nearly 40,000 is home to 48 blocks, 103 miles of roadway, 4 miles of boardwalk, 13 bus routes and one train, and people use a variety of methods to get to and from, and in and out of, the city.
Situated on the north end of 8-mile-long Absecon Island, three bridges and the Atlantic City Expressway connect Atlantic City to the rest of Atlantic County. To the south of the gambling mecca, along Atlantic and Ventnor avenues, are Ventnor, Margate and Longport.
Liz Carasick, who lost her driver’s license, has been using NJ Transit buses for everything from going to work to going grocery shopping. She said she can easily find her way around the city.
“For Atlantic City, there’s plenty (of public transportation), because if you don’t take NJ Transit you can take the jitneys,” said the 35-year-old city resident.
Getting out of the city, Carasick said, can be more challenging as the buses don’t run as frequently as she would like.
Others agreed. In fact, transportation is identified as one of the best ways to attract new residents and visitors to Atlantic City in the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, co-authored by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy. In it, Johnson said the city needed to develop strategies to enhance access to the city to boost the economy.
“Atlantic City can become a vibrant place to live, work and play. It currently has limited train and air service. The city and region could prosper if the train ride between Atlantic City and Philadelphia took less time and local commuters had a richer set of options,” the report states.
It said addressing the transit issue would make the city “more attractive as a home for commuters and a much more likely option for customers seeking entertainment.”
The city is the home of one end of the Atlantic City Rail Line between the shore and Philadelphia operated by NJ Transit, which just recently reopened after being shut down for months for improvements. It also is just miles away from Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, operated by the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
A new train schedule unveiled in May shows a focus on daytime ridership in and out of the city. Meanwhile, state and local officials are looking into a way to enhance travel at the underutilized airport, which has only one commercial airline, Spirit. State Senate President Steve Sweeney recently suggested the airport be taken over by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to alleviate pressure from major airports in the state. Local officials think it could help bring more tourists to the area.
Atlantic City’s Director of Planning and Development Barbara Wooley-Dillon said many projects have been completed or are underway to address transportation inside the city, such as the creation of a transit hub centered on the convention center.
“We are extremely fortunate to have the NJ Transit trains up and running again,” Wooley-Dillon said. “When they relocated the bus terminal within a block of the rail terminal, it’s a much better link.”
During a recent interview at her office in City Hall, which offers panoramic views of the northeastern end of the island, Wooley-Dillon said paving projects were recently completed along previously murky sections of Atlantic Avenue that would have left a car’s suspension in disrepair. The city will soon complete a safety study to make the corridor safer for pedestrians, she said.
Atlantic City is looking into both a bike share and a car share program to improve access. At last month’s meeting, City Council approved a request for proposals for the installation of electric vehicle infrastructure and a service provider and a $336,037 contract for construction of a bikeway along Atlantic and Ohio avenues.
Walking and biking are popular options for residents to commute within the city, and Wooley-Dillon admitted the city’s bike map needs an update.
Of course, all improvements cost money, and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization and New Jersey Department of Transportation have helped provide funding for the city to get even more done.
This year, the NJDOT announced a $515,531 grant for paving of Atlantic and Fairmount avenues. Paving along Ventnor Avenue was funded through a $544,715 state grant.
John Mele, the city engineer, said there is more than $844,000 in federal funding from 2014 going toward the Atlantic Avenue streetscape project.
“We’re making some progress,” Mele said. “It’s been a challenge with all the different needs of the city to coordinate these improvements.”
Wooley-Dillon said having the state involved in the process has been a tremendous help in terms of coordinating projects and ideas.
“We have the ear, the eye and the hand of the state helping the city,” she said.
Staff Writer Colt Shaw contributed to this report.
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MARGATE — Jesse Bloomquist gripped a sharp knife and slid it beneath the belly of a three-pound flounder before making a small incision on its tail.
In a few more swift motions, he pulled back the scales and exposed the fish’s meat as the wind whipped around him at the Margate Marina and the dock swayed.
He paused briefly to take a phone call, tapping his iPhone screen with bloody fingers, then returned to the task at hand: gutting and cleaning a catch reeled in by his first customers of the season.
It’s a necessary part of fishing, but one few are eager to take on.
“There’s some guts and blood, but if you do it quickly and cleanly, it’s an art,” said Bloomquist, captain of Flat Out Fishing Charters. “It’s just a matter of doing it a few times, or for me a few thousand times, to get good at it.”
For Bloomquist, the entire (messy) job is over in about 60 seconds.
Once done, he neatly lined up four pieces of fillet on the cutting table and chucked the skeleton of the flounder into the bay, making a splash, before wiping down his knife.
Bloomquist’s charter boat, which carries six people, is mostly booked by families, usually first-time anglers, throughout the summer. But even if they’re lucky enough to catch a fish, the day still isn’t over.
The fish’s internal organs must be removed before it can be consumed, and that’s where Bloomquist and other seasoned captains step in. In Cape May, there’s an on-the-go service, called On the Fly Mobile Fish Cleaning, that novice anglers can go to. Most charter boats offer it as part of the package.
Sometimes people stick around to watch, and other times they wander off. Almost all look forward to the final product, he said.
“Half of them are intrigued because it’s not something they’ve seen before. ... The other half are grossed out,” Bloomquist said. “But it’s part of the process. This is how you get that delicious fish taco at night.”
Nearby, two young children in orange life vests watched in amazement as another angler wiped down a flounder a few yards away.
Bloomquist has done this hundreds of times — a skill he learned as a teenager from his father. Now, it’s second nature for him, like driving.
It’s not uncommon for a crowd to gather around. And for children looking on, it’s a world away from the distant suburbs many are visiting from.
One of his favorite parts of the job, he said, is seeing kids put away their iPhones.
“It’s the coolest thing to see them light up and put their devices down for five minutes,” he said. “Playing video games, watching TV. But they get out here and that stuff is completely forgotten and they see what else they can do.”
WEST WILDWOOD — Second homeowners make up about 65% of the borough’s population, but they cannot vote here without giving up voting rights at their primary homes.
So they get no say in how the borough is run.
It’s got some of them hopping mad, looking for a way to stop what they see as abuses by Mayor Christopher Fox.
“You can’t like it,” said second homeowner and part-time resident Frank Bavis, who is ineligible to vote here because his main residence is in Philadelphia. “It’s almost like they are taking advantage of their authority.”
Fox was recently fined $24,900 by the state Division of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board for a long list of ethics violations, including allegedly favoring his girlfriend, who was promoted to police chief and given a big raise while he headed up the Public Safety Department.
Police Chief Jacqueline Ferentz also won a $1.7 million judgment against the borough after alleging mistreatment under a different mayor. The case went to trial while Fox was in office, and the Joint Insurance Fund has refused to pay the judgment, saying the borough did not adequately defend itself in the case.
Fox, who was recently terminated from his job as Wildwood business administrator over the damage the negative publicity was doing to that town, could not be reached for comment.
The controversy over the mayor, and the resulting bad publicity, can’t help but harm the borough’s image, said Russ Rohrman, who has been a full-time resident for 10 years and is on the Planning Board and involved in other community groups.
“We love the town,” said Rohrman.
“We don’t love the politics,” said his wife, Chris Rohrman.
“Oh my God, it’s like ‘Peyton Place,’” said Mary Ellen Zajac of the goings-on involving the mayor, his housemate the police chief, his daughter the newly hired officer and the lawsuits that have enriched the chief and some locals at the expense of others.
Zajac was a part-time resident for decades before retiring here full-time three years ago. She said she never paid much attention to how the borough was run when she couldn’t vote.
“People feel like their hands are tied,” said Zajac of her neighbors who are still part-time residents and can’t vote. “They can’t do anything about it.”
What finally got her attention, and the attention of so many others in town, she said, was the amount of money taxpayers have to hand over to the chief.
They are paying off the $1.7 million judgment in monthly installments of $5,000 a month for 200 months to Ferentz and $18,000 a month for 42 months to her attorney.
People are worried about how the tiny community of fewer than 900 homes can finance such expenditures without big tax increases. So far, the increase in municipal taxes needed to cover the monthly payments has been offset by falling school taxes, because there are so few children living here.
The school tax savings will end soon, the school board administrator has warned.
And Ferentz can call in the balance at any time, so if the mayor is voted out, many in town fear she will demand the full amount and local property taxes will go up dramatically.
Some are afraid that fact, plus Fox’s alleged favors to his local friends, will result in his continuing to get re-elected.
“They are going to keep voting him in,” said Bavis.
Former Class II Officer Jeremy Mawhinney, of Egg Harbor City, has filed a lawsuit claiming he was fired from his job in 2017 for writing tickets to political allies of Fox.
Mawhinney said in the suit he was told several times by his sergeant, James Dodd, and Chief Jackie Ferentz not to write tickets to Fox’s allies, regardless of whether they were breaking the law.
Mark Merighan, of Philadelphia, said he considered selling his vacation home and buying in North Wildwood to escape the possibility of big tax increases to pay off Ferentz.
But he decided not to let Fox chase him out of town, he said.
“The summer residents get nothing out of it,” he said of having to pay taxes without being able to vote.
Full-time residents can vote, but they question whether anyone will step up to run against Fox, who has been in office since the 1990s, except for the four years Herbert Frederick was mayor from 2008 to 2012.
They are also upset that the value of their homes and the reputation of the borough is being affected.
Bavis is a member of the Concerned Taxpayers of West Wildwood, and said the group has helped people get involved, even if they cannot vote here.
Some have retired and taken up permanent residency here to be able to vote, he said. And the group is looking into what it would take to change the law to allow second homeowners to vote in local elections, he said.
Delaware, Connecticut and New Mexico have changed their laws to allow second homeowners to vote in local elections, and a total of 10 states allow second homeowners to vote in some special elections like for fire districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
NCSL Policy Specialist Dylan Lynch said the issue is quiet now, with no serious push by New Jersey or other states to increase voting rights for second homeowners.
Others here just want to stay clear of political involvement.
Donna Howard has lived here full time since 1998, and considers many local officials her friends.
“When I go to Borough Hall with a problem, they always help me out. They’re always very nice,” said Howard. “I wouldn’t live anyplace else.”
But many people liked the idea of allowing vacation homeowners to vote locally.
The Rohrmans said giving second homeowners the right to vote would get more residents involved in helping run the town.
“It’s better when more people are involved,” said Russ.