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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Review & Opinion

Climate Change Makes Fleeing Disasters Harder

As we all know only too well Route 55 is a state highway that runs for approximately 40 miles from an interchange at Route 42 near Philadelphia to Port Elizabeth in Cumberland County. The planned completion of the road, a run from Port Elizabeth to the Garden State Parkway in Middle Township, never happened despite years of effort advocating for it from local officials and every shore visitor who has ever been caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on summer weekends. 

Two reasons are generally given for why the original plan was shelved. One is that the extension of the road would disturb sensitive environmental areas. The other is the state does not want to deal with the ever-rising costs of completing the final 20 miles of the project. 


By 2035 all new vehicles sold in New Jersey must be fueled solely by clean energy.
Perhaps just in time to have electric cars
running out of charge in jammed traffic
as 800,000 people flee a fast approaching storm on inadequate roads. 


Back in 1972 when climate change was just making its way onto the agenda of environmental activists, New Jersey issued a Master Plan for Transportation which stated that the construction of the then-proposed Route 55 was “necessary as a parallel route to NJ 47.” The justification went beyond the argument for the positive impact the road would have on economic development. That report from 50 years ago also focused on the road as an important emergency evacuation route. 

Now 50 years later the state fills the website of the Department of Environmental Protection with plans for a total energy transition, tells us we must accept offshore wind farms as a necessary part of the struggle with climate change, plans new land use rules that will restrict shore development through even more onerous regulation, and asks us to accept any negative environmental impacts of the drive for renewable energy sources. 

Yet the environmental disturbance that would be caused by completing Route 55 remains too high a price to pay for providing a usable evacuation route for Cape May County residents and the 800,000 or so visitors who are at the shore on any given summer day during the hurricane season.

The New Jersey Sierra Club has opposed the extension of Route 55 because it would cut through wetlands, open spaces, a recognized bird habitat and parts of the Pineland National Reserve. It is the environmentalist’s equivalent of “let them eat cake.”

A summer evacuation becomes more and more impossible in the shorter time frames that scientists tell us are increasingly likely because of ever more rapid intensification of storms.

The state salivates when reports show yearly growth in the number of visitors to Cape May County. Over a million and a half dollars a day in taxes makes its way to Trenton. Tourism numbers presented in 2023 show over 200,000 souls just in the Wildwoods on any given day in the summer. Yet we are told we cannot even consider upsetting a recognized bird habitat to provide a workable means of evacuation. 

These same individuals, including environmental groups, seem ready to accept a degree of environmental harm in order to build the wind farms off the coast or to shore high voltage transmission cables along the “preferred route” to grid linkups.

We are told to trust the science. Where is that trust when the National Hazards Center in Boulder, Colorado, tells us that more frequent and intense storm threats will have a “decrease in warning time” for evacuations? Evacuation warnings now increasingly involve quick decisions in conditions of uncertainty due to rapid intensification of storms. 

The science tells us that climate change is going to create new challenges for modeling storm intensity and paths. It is, the scientists tell us, changing the way hurricanes behave. The weather prediction models are having increasing difficulty forecasting rapid intensification.

Fleeing disasters is getting harder and this county still has the same inadequate routes it had when Route 55 reached its present length in 1989.

Except for certain environmental groups, this is not about bird habitats. The offshore wind initiative has shown that the state will readily accept environmental harm to gain its objectives.

This is about cost and a state apparently willing to roll the dice on the lives and well being of Cape May County residents and visitors even when the science they so revere tells them they are going to have less and less time to effectuate evacuations.

Why not set a goal now for having the Department of Transportation get the “road to nowhere” completed. Can that last 20 miles be so much greater a challenge than 11,000 megawatts of capacity from offshore wind by 2040?

How fast the excuses will come if a mega storm takes human lives that could have been saved with an effective evacuation route.

Trenton needs to “listen to the science” even when it says what it does not want to hear.

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