Route 35 rebuild posing an extra challenge to tourism dependent towns

Construction on Route 35 will largely be put on hold for the summer season on the barrier island. That’s good news for businesses from Bay Head to Berkeley still trying to bounce back from Superstorm Sandy.

Some business owners say the road work has really hurt the early spring tourism season.

Gail Coleman, Seaside Park, N.J. councilwoman and owner of the 3 C’s Luncheonette on Route 35 says during the winter months her cafe relies on island locals, but in April she typically starts seeing more day-trippers driving in from across the bridge. That hasn’t been the case this year.

“I’ve been in this business for 24 years so I know what to anticipate,” said Coleman. Then, gesturing at the empty dining area, “This is the absolute worst. I’ll tell you, the register didn’t ring up what it should have.”

Coleman doesn’t take issue with the project – she actually thinks it’s a great idea – but she feels it was poorly timed.

“I don’t think this would’ve been so bad if we hadn’t just been through Superstorm Sandy,” Coleman said. “They should have allowed the businesses to recover first, at least give us a year to reestablish!”

Jerry Rotunda, owner of Bum Rogers Crabhouse and Tavern on Route 35 in South Seaside Park said the road construction has deterred even his local clientele from dining out. Blown tires and constantly-changing detour routes are the biggest reasons for dwindling turnout.

But Rotunda, who also serves on the Seaside Park Tourism Committee, is most concerned about September 3 – that’s the scheduled date when route construction will resume full force again. Rotunda says that cuts into a key business month.

“September is a big, big month for tourism here,” he said. “The water’s still warm, the beaches are empty, and the weekends are very crowded. If they start digging up the road that week we’re done.”

One of the original reasons Route 35 was going to be repaired was to improve the drainage system under the road.

For Tom Hansen of Grumpy’s Bait and Tackle this is what he’s been waiting for. The entrance to his store on the corner of Route 35 and I Street often floods because heavy rainfall overwhelms the drainage system. Hansen calls this impromptu moat “Lake Grumpy.”

“Anytime we have any rain, my customers drive right on past because the water gets over the top of the curb and over the sidewalk, nearly a foot deep at times,” said Hansen.

Hansen is also a licensed land surveyor with experience in heavy construction. He says he’s briefly looked over the Department of Transportation’s designs and thinks it’s a competent plan.

“It’s all good. It’s overdue. It’s necessary. And yep, it’s a pain in the neck, but it’s worth it!”

The $265 million project broke ground last September, causing closures and detours along 12.5 miles of Route 35 from Berkley to Bay Head. The plan to repair this section of Route 35 was in motion before Sandy hit in Oct of 2012, but the storm ripped up portions of the road, which led to a decision to completely rebuild it on the barrier island.

Route 35 is the main artery and evacuation route for the barrier island communities between Island Beach State Park and Bay Head.

The Department of Transportation expects to complete the massive project by the summer of 2015.

Summer road construction schedule

All construction on Route 35 will be temporarily halted for Memorial Day Weekend between noon on Thursday, May 22 through noon on Tuesday, May 27.

Mile posts 0-4 in Berkeley, Seaside Park, Seaside Heights, and Toms River

Work on Route 35 will be suspended at noon on June 13 and will resume on September 3. Work on the side streets will continue throughout the summer

Mile posts 4-9 in Lavallette, Toms River, and Brick

Work on Route 35 northbound in the Lavallette Business District between Brown Avenue and Bond Avenue will be halted at noon on May 22 and will resume on September 3

Work will continue along Route 35 northbound in Toms River and Brick as crews as installs new gas lines. One northbound travel lane and shoulder will be maintained at all times from Strickland Boulevard in Toms River to Curtis Point Drive in Brick

Work on Route 35 southbound will continue through the summer with one travel lane and a shoulder maintained from Curtis Point Drive in Brick to Strickland Boulevard in Toms River. Two southbound travel lanes will be maintained from Strickland Boulevard to 6th Avenue in Toms River at all times. Work on the side streets will continue throughout the summer

Mile posts 9-12.5 in Mantoloking and Bay Head

Work on Route 35 and all sides streets will be suspended at noon on May 22 and will resume September 3. Work on the side streets will continue throughout the summer.

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