Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st) hosted four members of the Cape Issues group, his legislative partners, Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen (both R-1st) and Congressman Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) in a recent meeting to discuss several subjects of local interest.
The broad agenda items included the return of tourism tax dollars to Cape May County, education funding, and the completion of Route 55.
In light of his long history as an elected official, Van Drew led off the meeting with his take on the history of the Route 55 completion effort and the obstacles that previously prevented state action on the construction.
The major issues preventing completion have always included costs and environmental impact, and the Audubon Society has made the preservation of Cape May County a national priority.
Even after several studies going back to the 1950s and the most recent work by the South Jersey Transportation Planning Agency, in 2017, that documented the traffic problems on Routes 55/47/347, the state Department of Transportation does not want to complete the design phase and will not even consider funding road construction that is not on their Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) list.
Van Drew also said Gov. Murphy does not support Route 55 completion.
He suggested Testa lead the effort to revive Route 55 in cooperation with Cape May and Cumberland counties' commissioners and the elected officials from the directly affected municipalities in both counties.
Testa has introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 19, which urges the U.S. Congress and president to provide federal infrastructure funds for the extension of Route 55.
This follows Resolution 128-21 last year by the Cape May County Commissioners, which, again, endorsed completion of Route 55, at least the fifth time the board has issued such a resolution.
Testa recommended we engage the public and develop a statement of facts that document the issues for and against Route 55. He stressed not only the day-to-day traffic issues, which currently exist, but also the current public safety problems with all the evacuation routes out of the county, which will only get worse with the predicted sea level rise.
He also feels completion of Route 55 will be a driver of the economic development mainland Cape May County needs to attract year-round residents.
With only an hour to meet, the lively Route 55 discussion precluded meaningful discussion of affordable housing, economic development, education needs/options, and the equitable return of tax dollars to the county. Other questions left on the table from this meeting include:
What does the public think about the completion of Route 55 and its environmental complications?
How can Cape May County get Route 55 support from North Jersey politicians?
What will our county government do to follow up on its 2021 resolution and get Route 55, the county bridges, and other transportation infrastructure on the TIP list?
Cape Issues expects to prepare follow-up pieces on these issues, including how to balance infrastructure and public safety needs with the environmental concerns that have blocked Route 55 in the past.
Public input on these concerns to Cape Issues, care of the Herald, is encouraged.