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Venice Park bridge replacement moving ahead

ATLANTIC CITY — Construction on two deteriorating bridges in Venice Park has yet to begin more than a year after the state Department of Transportation provided a portion of funding to replace the aging structures, but city officials are planning to get the project rolling soon.

The Ohio Avenue bridges — one of which crosses the Venice Lagoon and the other of which spans the Penrose Canal — were identified by the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory as far back as 2013 as being in need of replacement.

Sylvester Showell, president of the 3rd Ward Homeowners Association, said he had not heard any updates on the bridges recently and was curious about the status.

“One minute, they’re going to do something,” he said, “then the next, nothing happens. But they need to do something because the road is all torn up and it’s damaging the cars.”

But help may soon be on the way.

On Wednesday, city and state officials said a request for proposal on the design phase of at least one of the bridges could go out next week.

“The city wants to move as quickly as possible,” said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency overseeing Atlantic City as a result of the 2016 takeover. “The goal is to start as early as possible.”

Alma Johnson, a resident of Venice Park, inquired about the status of the project during City Council’s February meeting, noting that vehicles, including hers, routinely bottom out at the crease where the road meets the deck.

Johnson told council that former interim Planning Director Robert Preston informed members of the Venice Park Civic Association and 4th Ward Councilman William Marsh the city had “at least part of the money” to begin work and the project was slated to begin in 2020.

In 2016, city officials considered the bridges “critical needs” in a list submitted to the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization.

Two years later, the city was awarded a $2 million grant from NJDOT to cover part of the cost to replace the bridges. The South Jersey Transportation Authority has provided the city with an additional $400,000 for work on the Penrose bridge.

According to the SJTPO, construction costs to rehabilitate the two bridges were estimated at $6.5 million.

Federal data show the Penrose Canal bridge on Ohio Avenue has an average daily traffic volume of 1,355 vehicles as of 2013. The bridge over the lagoon, according to federal data from the same year, has an average volume of 1,443 vehicles per day.

A source of funding to complete the project has yet to be identified, and the city will likely need to issue bonds to cover costs since capital improvement funds are limited.

For a municipality that has nearly $400 million in outstanding debt, the prospect of issuing more debt is not ideal, but, in this instance, it is necessary, experts said.

Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University and former deputy director of the state Division of Local Government Services, said even in a cash-strapped municipality such as Atlantic City, bonding has become the primary means of funding capital improvements.

In a situation where issuing long-term debt is less than desirable, a municipality will issue bond anticipation notes to cover the initial costs of a project to get it started, he said.

“Could Atlantic City have put aside money during the good years (prior to the state takeover in 2016)? Absolutely,” Pfeiffer said. “But at some point, the city is going to have to pay for capital improvements.”

According to the National Bridge Inventory, the bridge over the Penrose Canal was identified as being in poor condition in 2013, while the Venice Lagoon bridge was listed as poor in 2015.

The substructure of the Penrose Canal bridge was in “serious” condition in 2015.

City and state officials are aware of the need to upgrade Atlantic City’s aging infrastructure. Both bridges were built in 1969, federal data show.

“The city is working on it,” Marsh said at February’s council meeting. “Something needs to be done sooner rather than later.”

The city has performed maintenance of the two bridges periodically, most recently in 2016.

United Kingdom Red Arrows to fly in 2019 Atlantic City Airshow

Those who see the Atlantic City Airshow as the crowning event of the summer can look forward to it having a royal display this year.

The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force Red Arrows will make the leap across the pond for the first time in more than 10 years for the 17th annual airshow Aug. 21.

Atlantic City was selected as the second United States stop in the Red Arrows’ 10-week North American tour.

“Atlantic City looks like a really great place for us to display,” said Red Arrows Squadron Leader Adam Collins. “We’re really excited about coming across and putting our red, white and blue smoke down over the Thunder over the Boardwalk.”

Officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows consist of 11 pilots, nine of whom fly in the display, and more than 100 support personnel and technicians.

PHOTOS: The Royal Air Force Red Arrows

Each year, airshow organizers reach out to international embassies to contact countries that have their own military demonstration teams, said David Schultz, the Atlantic City Airshow’s air boss.

In 2010, the Brazilian Airforce’s Smoke Squadron landed its green and yellow planes in Atlantic City, and last year the Canadian Snow Birds made their first appearance above the city’s beaches.

Schultz said they have been trying to bring the Royal Air Force to the city for 10 years.

“Atlantic City has an excellent reputation for supporting the performers and being a first-class host, and they are very, very excited to come to the East Coast.”

The team flies sleek red British‐built BAE Systems Hawk T1 fast‐jets with white accents on their wings in the 20-25 minute display, which is broken into two parts.

The first half of the show, Collins said, is for the “more graceful formations” and aerobatic shapes, some of which relate to significant events in history.

The second half of the show features four or five aircraft in more dynamic performances that include opposition passes, where planes pass each other at very close distances.

They train until the maneuvers become second nature. Collins said this allows them to concentrate more on the “what ifs,” including working with different weather conditions and terrain.

The team has had experience battling poor weather and has prepared three shows to deal with it. They can fly “full show,” the “rolling show” for lower cloud base and the “flat” show for poor weather.

Right now, the team is conducting winter training in Greece, where they will have a month of guaranteed good weather to put the finishing touches on their display.

They will perform at home in Great Britain for a shortened domestic tour from June to late July. Then, after a short break, the Red Arrows will prepare to cross the Atlantic.

This is a complex process because British‐built Hawk fast‐jet single engines can only fly for a maximum of two hours before needing to be refueled.

As a result, the trip includes quick stops in Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and then Canada.

From there, they will perform in Chicago over Lake Michigan and then land their signature red planes in Atlantic City.

In addition to the Red Arrows, the Atlantic City Airshow will welcome back the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, U.S. Army Golden Knights and the GEICO Skytypers.

The Airshow will also feature some action on the water. According to the event’s Facebook page, the racing boat Miss GEICO will take to the ocean and the GEICO Skytypers will take to the air to see who is faster.

The full schedule of performances will be released closer to the airshow.

Collins said the group is excited about the tour, and even though they will get a great view of the city from above, they look forward to spending a few days in the resort seeing the sights.

“We’re looking forward to meeting some people there and certainly finding out what Atlantic City has to offer,” he said.

Cpl. Ashley Keates / provided  

The U.K. Royal Air Force Red Arrows consist of 11 pilots, nine of whom fly in the display, and more than 100 support personnel and technicians.

Atlantic City casino revenue continued to grow in February

ATLANTIC CITY — Casino gaming revenue was up for the ninth consecutive month in February, according to state gaming regulators.

Total gaming revenue for the month was $232.3 million, an increase of 21 percent compared to February 2018, based on data released Wednesday by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

“Since the start of the New Year, Atlantic City continues to see sustained revenue and tourism growth in 2019,” said Kevin Ortzman, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey. “As we head into March, with March Madness and baseball season approaching, we are very hopeful that Atlantic City will continue to grow as a destination resort for visitors.”

Casino revenue in the resort has increased by double digits every month since the opening of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino in June. The continued growth of online casino gaming and the addition of a new revenue source from sports betting have also contributed to the industry’s winning streak.

“It’s clear the new gaming options and other amenities are continuing to grow the Atlantic City market,” said Casino Control Commission Chairman James Plousis.

Casino win — revenue generated from slot and table games — was up more than $26 million last month compared to the same time in 2018, an increase of 15.7 percent. Table games accounted for $57 million in revenue, which is up 24.4 percent. Slot machine win increased by 12.4 percent with reported revenue last month of $139.6 million.

“February was a good month,” said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University. “Atlantic City is on an upswing. Visitation is growing, and interest is certainly continuing to rise as time goes by and as we add additional amenities to the resort, which includes two new properties and other non-gaming facilities.”

Sports betting, which was introduced to Atlantic City casinos in June, reported revenue of $3.875 million for the month. The figure also includes sports betting revenue generated by online and mobile partners. The state’s two racetracks that offer sports betting — Monmouth Park and Meadowlands — reported revenue of $8.86 million.

February was the first time legal bets on the Super Bowl were permitted in New Jersey.

Online and mobile sports betting continued to account for the majority of wagers in the Garden State. Of the $320.4 million wagered in February, 80.8 percent was done online or through a mobile application.

“Because of the strength of New Jersey’s online product, in-play betting during the Super Bowl was significantly stronger in New Jersey than in other legal markets,” said Dustin Gouker, lead sports betting analyst for “In addition, New Jersey’s sportsbooks saw significant action on other sports, particularly on college basketball and the NBA.”

Internet gaming grew by 44.4 percent with revenues of $31.7 million.

“New Jersey’s online casinos are among the biggest beneficiaries of legalized sports betting,” said Steve Ruddock, lead online gambling analyst for “Online casino revenue has grown by at least 25 percent in seven of the eight months since online sportsbooks made their first appearance in the Garden State. It would not be surprising if the industry hits $40 million in monthly revenue at some point before 2019 has ended.”

Frustrated students ask Pleasantville board for payment from summer program

PLEASANTVILLE — Eight high school students who participated in a summer education program at Rowan University say they haven’t received the stipend they were promised as compensation from their district.

“The language in the contract specifically stated that if the requirements were met, they would be rewarded,” senior David Moran told the school board at its Tuesday meeting. “We promised you guys 100 percent commitment and we gave it, but yet that is not seen from you guys.”

Moran and his classmates wanted to know when they would receive the $200 for their participation in the Rowan Urban Teachers Academy. Their question, for now, remained unanswered.

Superintendent Clarence Alston said Moran was “absolutely right” and they were trying to figure out how to get the students paid. He said the problem was the district was not allowed to pay the students directly but was unaware of that fact when the agreement with Rowan was signed in April.

“This was a new program, so there were some things that were missing because it was new for all of us. We have worked it out for this particular round, and we’ve got to make sure we keep our commitment to you,” Alston said. “Everything you said is accurate, and we’ll certainly improve from that.”

The Pleasantville school board approved a memorandum of understanding with Rowan in April 2018 to participate in the Urban Teachers Academy, a program aimed at increasing interest in teaching in urban districts through direct experiences in classrooms. The students spent two weeks in Glassboro in July and August completing assignments, keeping a portfolio and teaching and planning lessons to urban elementary school children.

According to the agreement signed by Pleasantville, the district would provide all funding for the program, including paying for the Rowan faculty and students who facilitated the program and a $200 stipend per participant. Although initial interest was high, only eight students from Pleasantville High School agreed to the full terms of the contract, which included an 84-hour time commitment, said student Karina Rojas, who completed the academy.

The students said they have been asking administrators since September what is happening with the stipends and getting different answers. Moran said the most frustrating answer he has received was, “Just give it time.”

“In our perspective, we’ve been waiting so long,” he said after the meeting, which led the students to go to the school board.

Moran said the district should be more prepared when it offers programs to students. He said he will have a hard time encouraging other students to participate because of the lack of transparency.

Rojas told The Press the agreement was approved under former Principal Edward “Jim” Bonek. Bonek is in jail on child pornography charges. Howard Johnson was moved from the Leeds Avenue School to the high school to fill the vacancy.

Pleasantville School District facing budget cuts

PLEASANTVILLE — The school district will face another tough budget year due to salary increases coupled with state aid losses, auditor Mike Garcia of Ford Scott Associates told the school board Tuesday.

But none of that is important, Rojas said.

“It doesn’t matter who’s principal and who’s not,” she said after the meeting. “This was board-approved.”

Rojas suggested to Alston a gift card might work, and he said that is an option the district is considering.

“We have not forgotten about you, and it’s been bugging us for eight months as well. We felt really bad because you were committed and we’re so proud of you to stick with it. And we do have that responsibility to you,” Alston said.

Alston said the district plans to participate again this summer and has figured out it can pay Rowan, which could then distribute the stipends to the students.