By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Front gateway? Or back entrance?
The 34th Street corridor’s aesthetically challenged appearance stands in sharp contrast to its status as Ocean City’s second-busiest entryway.
Ocean City officials and local residents agree that the 34th Street-Roosevelt Boulevard artery is dramatically in need of a facelift to make it a more inviting entrance into town.
“Quite frankly, it doesn’t look very good,” said City Council President Bob Barr, whose house on Roosevelt Boulevard overlooks the road.
Barr’s grim assessment of 34th Street came during a public meeting that he held Saturday with residents of the Fourth Ward to discuss different issues in his district.
Residents pointed to Ocean City’s Ninth Street artery, the primary route into town, as something that might serve as a model to give 34th Street more pizzazz. In recent years, the city transformed Ninth Street into a more attractive entrance by replacing three former blighted gas stations with quaint, landscaped parks.
“If Ninth Street is the front entrance, 34th Street is the back,” said resident Brian McPeak, who lives at 29th Street and Simpson Avenue.
Mayor Jay Gillian, who attended the Fourth Ward meeting, agreed with Barr and the residents that something needs to be done to spruce up 34th Street.
“It’s something that we have to absolutely look at,” Gillian said.
The 34th Street corridor ties in with Roosevelt Boulevard to link Ocean City’s southern end with neighboring Upper Township. The roadway, including the 34th Street Bridge, spans about two miles from Route 9 in Upper Township’s Marmora section to Bay Avenue in Ocean City.
The road is under Cape May County’s control, which prevents Ocean City from simply using its own money to give it a makeover.
Gillian noted that the city has been working with the county to address 34th Street’s uninspiring appearance. However, the county must first complete its plans to elevate the low-lying road to protect traffic from floodwaters seeping out of the surrounding marshlands.
In January, OCNJDaily.com first reported on plans to elevate the 34th Street-Roosevelt Boulevard corridor between the Garden State Parkway entrance in Marmora to Bay Avenue in Ocean City.
Bob Church, the county engineer, said in January that the project is in the conceptual phase. There is no set date at this time to complete construction, he added.
He indicated that, ideally, the 34th Street-Roosevelt Boulevard corridor would be elevated the next time it needs to undergo a resurfacing. The timing of the project would depend on designs, permitting, easements and funding, Church explained.
On average, 20,000 vehicles each day cross the 34th Street Bridge, the most heavily traveled bridge in the county network.
Exactly how high the road would be elevated will depend on the final designs. Church noted that the portion of the road east of the 34th Street Bridge will be raised by a “more significant amount” because it is more than a foot lower than the west side of the bridge.
Early estimates of the cost of the project are in the $4 million to $6 million range. A better estimate will follow once the designs are tightened up, Church said.
The county’s road-raising project will be coordinated with a separate flood-mitigation project by Ocean City for the Merion Park neighborhood adjacent to the 34th Street-Roosevelt Boulevard corridor.
Before construction begins, the city must complete the preliminary work, including obtaining environmental permits for the project and awarding a construction contract. The tentative timetable for construction to begin is next fall.
Meanwhile, it seems that 34th Street’s appearance will stay the same for now. Barr lamented that even the pine trees lining the road along a grassy median strip are ugly. Some of them are bent, gnarled and twisted.
“The trees look bad,” Barr said, although he noted that strands of lights have been added to them to enhance their look at night and during the holiday season.
Barr has been talking to city, county and Upper Township officials in recent years on ways to beautify 34th Street. He has mentioned the possibility of planting attractive new landscaping, perhaps some evergreens, to replace the old pines.
During Saturday’s meeting, Barr said he believes it is “critically important” to remake 34th Street.
However, he stressed that he does not want to see the corridor improved for personal reasons simply because he lives on Roosevelt Boulevard.
His hope, he said, is to have a more appealing entryway that would benefit the city’s residents and visitors.
“There’s no question that the area could look better,” he said.