By Donald Wittkowski
It’s not done yet – but almost.
Contractors are making the final push to complete the last half of Sea Isle Boulevard’s reconstruction into an elevated roadway that will be protected from flooding, even during severe storms.
In the past few weeks, the completion date had been pushed back from Dec. 28 to Jan. 7, but it now appears the project won’t be finished until Jan. 14 or 15, according to the latest update from Cape May County.
Overall, though, the project still remains about a year ahead of schedule. The first half of the elevated road was completed last year. Crews are now paving the other side of the elevated roadway to get it finished this month.
Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio, growing slightly impatient with the latest delay, joked that the project may become a Valentine’s Day present to motorists.
“I’m saying the middle of February,” Desiderio predicted of the completion date. “It will be a Valentine’s Day gift for Sea Isle – all the sweethearts.”
The most recent delays were blamed on the rainy weather and time-off requirements for the construction workers over the holidays.
For four years, contractors have been reconstructing the main entryway into Sea Isle to raise it by 4.5 feet. The $12.7 million project is creating a safer evacuation route off the low-lying barrier island by protecting motorists from flooding.
Cape May County Engineer Bob Church explained that the road is being raised above the 100-year flood plain. Statistically, that means there is only a 1 percent chance the road will flood in any year, he noted.
“It’s a much higher and safer evacuation route,” Church said in an interview.
The boulevard will remain only one lane in each direction when it is finished, but it will be wider and include new shoulders as another safety feature.
Cape May County, which oversees the project, is rebuilding a 1.7-mile stretch of the boulevard from the Garden State Parkway’s Exit 17 entrance ramp to the bridge entering Sea Isle. The project includes a new ramp that connects the boulevard with the northbound lanes of the parkway.
Most of the remaining work involves paving the last half of the road and finishing the guardrail. Paving has been completed to within about 1,000 feet of the Ludlam’s Thoroughfare Bridge entering Sea Isle, according to the latest update.
The rest of the paving is expected to begin on Jan. 10 and take about four days to complete. Church said the entire road should open no later than Jan. 15.
The concrete center barrier that separates motor vehicle traffic from the construction will be removed when the paving starts. When that happens, motorists will no longer be squeezed into narrow lanes.
City Council President Jack Gibson said the contractor, South State Inc., has pledged not to shut down its asphalt plant for the winter until the paving is complete.
A minimum temperature of 40 degrees is needed to spread the new asphalt on the road, Church said.
Although the road will have new pavement, the contractor will return in the spring to lay a final top coat of asphalt for a smoother surface, Church said.