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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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County Officials, Freeholders Introduce ‘Beach Ball Boulevard’ to Wildwoods

County officials introduced residents and visitors to "Beach Ball Boulevard" July 1. The renovations are apart of an ongoing construction project on Route 47

By Press Release

WILDWOOD – The Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA), and the Wildwoods’ municipal officials announced the completion of the Grand Gateway, a new visitor welcoming experience.
 “The Wildwood Gateway project is one I am truly proud to have been a part of. I want to commend Freeholder Will Morey and our county engineer, Bob Church, for the amazing project in coordination with many great Federal, State, and local partners. This is a true collaboration and the results are amazing,” stated Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton.
According to a release, the culmination of five years of planning and preparation, construction work on this $13.7 Million Cape May County-led Grand Gateway project commenced in February 2019. The Grand Gateway, featuring the newly named Beach Ball Boulevard, is designed to alleviate traffic congestion along the Rio Grande Corridor, improve drainage and evacuation capabilities, mitigate flooding, and welcomes visitors with new nostalgic Doo-Wop style signage, lighting, streetscapes and architecture. The project stretches from the George Redding Bridge to Artic Avenue and includes major road reconstruction and realignment, utility improvements, extensive streetscape improvements, and specialty lighting.
“Great collaborations set the foundation for great projects,” stated Cape May County Freeholder Will Morey. “This fantastic Wildwoods Grand Gateway is a classic and inspiring example of government entities working together productively with vision; the result is a project where ‘the whole has become much greater than the sum of its parts’.”
“If visitors ever had any doubt that they are welcomed and valued, this new Gateway sends the message loud and clear. The new Grand Gateway signifies your arrival into our exciting destination in a unique way that epitomizes the Wildwoods,” explained John Siciliano, executive director and chief financial officer, Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.
Additional prominent features of the Gateway include a large digital billboard, an ocean wave mural on the large curving retaining wall of the new pumping station, large beach ball bollards, and soon-to-be-installed unique streetscaping artwork of beach balls directly on the pavement at the intersections of Susquehanna Avenue and Park Boulevard, creating drivable murals.
Upon their departure, visitors receive a farewell message from the 1950s, displayed in two parts on the reverse sides of the digital billboard and surfboard-shaped Doo-Wop sign.
“We are always looking for new and exciting ways to attract families to the Wildwoods, including becoming deeply involved in the beautification of the island with new roadways, fixtures and streetscapes that are fun, functional, and distinctly the Wildwoods,” stated Jack Morey, chairman of GWTIDA’s Strategic Planning Committee, which is responsible for the welcome sign, digital billboard, an ocean wave mural, and several the concrete beach balls placed throughout the streetscape. “The path forward is fresh, clean, family-themed, kitschy, not-too-serious, and quite a different experience than any other beach town on the Jersey Shore and beyond,” he added.
The newly-paved, widened four-lane street increases traffic flow, with separate turning lanes. Attractive street lighting, oversized concrete beach ball bollards scattered throughout the pristine new landscape.
Pedestrians and cyclists alike can safely enjoy the corridor with newly constructed bike lanes from the George Redding Bridge to Susquehanna Avenue on both sides of the street, and decorative ADA-compliant sidewalks, consisting of stamped, colored concrete that resembles boardwalk planking, give visitors a glimpse of what awaits them ahead.
Flood Mitigation
The new Grand Gateway is more than an aesthetic improvement.
“The need for the project arose due to chronic year-round flooding causing significant traffic congestion issues. The new design addresses these issues by mitigating flooding and improving traffic flow, thanks to raised and wider streets, a new traffic pattern, additional turning lanes, and a new stormwater pumping station,” stated Wildwood Mayor Peter Byron. “It’s a wonderful way to welcome visitors to the destination, and for island residents, it represents pride, safety and relief from flooding and traffic headaches of years past,” he added.
Before the gateway improvements, it was common for flooding and road closures to occur at Susquehanna Avenue due to the low elevation of the intersection and inadequate drainage facilities. The new gateway mitigates chronic flooding by elevating portions of the roadway by up to 36 inches, which is above the historical high-water flood depths, and the installation of a dual-chamber stormwater pump station. The station measures 39 x 48 inches and has approximately 8 feet of interior storage depth. 
Seven pumps were installed in two separate chambers, three of which will work in unison to pump stormwater. The remaining four pumps will be used to pump runoff, providing the city with the ability to connect off-site storm sewers into the pump station to assist in alleviating municipal street flooding.
Traffic Flow Improvements
Traffic congestion common along the corridor has been alleviated by widening roads, adding turning lanes and incorporating new ADA-compliant traffic signals. Safety of travelers by car, bus, bicycle or on foot has been greatly improved by the wider roads, the installation of ADA-compliant pedestrian sidewalks and the addition of bicycle routes on both sides of the corridor.
This required a complex and multi-faceted effort that included utility coordination and relocations along the entire project length, right-of-way acquisition of private and city properties, and changing the jurisdictional responsibilities of the roadway west of Susquehanna Avenue from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) jurisdiction to Cape May County. 
Significant coordination was also needed with Atlantic City Electric and Verizon, as all aerial utilities had to be relocated, with adjacent private properties concerning new elevations and access patterns, with the NJDOT movable bridge operations to maintain power and operations of the bridge during construction and with business owners to maintain business access during construction. Significant traffic staging operations were also implemented to maintain traffic flow at all times along the corridor.
Project Funding
Funding for the $13.7 million Grand Gateway was provided by the County of Cape May and also derived from the following sources:
The Greater Wildwood Tourism and Improvement Authority (GWTIDA) funded $350,000 for several signature features that distinguish the corridor and leave a lasting impression on visitors, including the themed welcome sign and new digital sign, an artistic mural on the pump station wall, and the dozens of large Wildwoods signature cement beach balls scattered along the corridor.
A portion of the road improvements is being funded by the state annual Transportation Program Grant, for $4 million.
The new “pocket park” is being financed with a county $170,000 Open Spaces Trust funding grant.
The County received $119,505 from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund for the remediation of an automobile service center, formerly located at the site of the stormwater pump station.
The $2.25 million pump station and associated drainage is funded in large part by a FEMA grant of $1.864 million issued to Wildwood and administered by the county on behalf of the city, with the county providing the required 25% local match.
Philadelphia architect Richard Stokes, who designed the now-famous 80-foot-long, 19-foot-high iconic “Wildwoods” sign, at the foot of the Wildwoods Boardwalk, also designed the Grand Gateway as an extension to the larger-than-life brushed steel sign, which is aptly situation at the end of Beach Ball Boulevard at the Boardwalk, a fitting exclamation point to travelers’ journeys on the corridor, as they then make their way to the beach, the boardwalk and their hotels for a family vacation.

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