Infrastructure is sort of a vague, nebulous term to people who are not in tune with the lingo used in municipal government – yet it is almost always on the minds of elected officials who oversee spending the taxpayers’ money on “capital improvements.”
Infrastructure is defined as the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise. That can include buildings, roads, utility structures, etc. Besides roads, for example, it also includes water and sewer lines below the roads, which once installed are out of sight and out of mind.
Infrastructure projects are capital projects in that they are a long-term, capital investment, with the term capital meaning “money.” Sea Isle City recently introduced a five-year, $40.1 million capital plan with over half of it going to roads, drainage, and flood mitigation. About $2 million is being dedicated to beach renourishment and $1 million to aesthetic lighting on its promenade.
Ocean City has a five-year capital plan that will cost $150 million, which also includes roads, drainage, and flood mitigation, as well as maintenance of city buildings and facilities. The big-ticket item is a $24 million police/fire station. Fortunate are the municipalities that do not have to consider such a large investment.
Recently, the Herald looked at Wildwood Crest’s capital plan for the short term – basically over the next year, although there are projects that could and probably will carry over into 2024. Those could include projects such as the New Jersey Avenue reconstruction project, which depends on how quickly the county project progresses. The borough is planning to upgrade water and sewer lines where the road reconstruction will take place; again, an infrastructure improvement that will be covered up and forgotten.
Wildwood Crest will spend about $8 million over the course of 2023, which is roughly on par with Sea Isle’s annual average for its five-year plan, but the Crest always stands out to us for how much it is doing and the quality of the improvements. One only has to listen to the borough administrator’s report to learn how many and varied projects the borough is working on at any given time, and how visible some of those projects will be.
Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrera said the borough recognizes it is a vacation community and knows the public appreciates positive, above-ground changes. One of these visible changes will be the completion of the Crest Arts Pavilion, which is a project that will give new life to what is often called “the old library building.”
The Crest Arts Pavilion will be the final piece of a municipal corridor that includes the “new” Wildwood Crest Library and pickleball courts. Pickleball, by the way, has seen nearly 40% growth in the last two years, with there being an estimated 35,000 courts nationwide – nearly double the number from five years ago. With the average age of a pickleball player being 55, the chances are good that some of our visitors, including second homeowners, are enjoying the pastime. Second homeowners are part of the vacationer crowd, as they generally don’t go to the shore to work.
Regarding second homeowners, it should be noted that they pay year-round for a lot of things permanent residents pay for but receive a greater benefit, such as schools for their children, fire, and police protection, and so on.
Vacationers will appreciate the improvements being made at beach entrances. As odd as the term “beach bump-outs” sounds, there will be upgrades to the street ends where beach entrances are located. Visiting beachgoers will see a nicer transition spot from beach to street, including benches, shade, and foot-washing stations.
Quite visible to the public is the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol Headquarters. Nearly $2 million in improvements could not come at a better time, as Madison Resorts is renovating the former Oceanview Motel across the street. The façade of the lifeguard headquarters shows signs of age and exposure to the elements and would be an eyesore to guests at the renovated motel.
After the county improves New Jersey Avenue, which will include a road diet for traffic calming purposes, the borough will be promoting a redevelopment plan. If the borough succeeds in attracting the necessary, anchor restaurant/business to the renovated downtown business district – to be named “Crest Station” – it could be an economic step up for the borough.
By summer, infrastructure work on Pacific Avenue should be finished. A Building Resilient Infrastructure Communities (BRIC) grant study of flooding on Washington Avenue will be completed. The borough is working with a grant coordinator to work on flood mitigation between Cresse Avenue and Rambler Road, representing a large chunk of the community.
Charging stations for electric vehicles (EV) – another rising industry – will be completed in 2023, adding another amenity for vacationers and residents alike.
There continues to be work on projects that might not add to the ambiance of Wildwood Crest but are nevertheless improvements to the community. The borough’s survey for Sunset Lake-State Channel dredging is complete, CAFRA permits for public safety storage and parking, and working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Protection on the Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet Beach and Dune Construction Project. Begun in 2013, no one knows when construction of the dune project will begin, let alone be completed.
The point of all this is that the Borough of Wildwood Crest has a lot of work keeping up with all the roads, drainage, and flood mitigation work that is inherent to barrier island communities, but it is also aware of its position as a vacation community and works to promote and enhance the image, while attempting to keep the tax rate stable. This should be a model for all Cape May County communities considering the importance of our tourism to the lifeblood of the region.
From the Bible: A wise man builds his house upon the rock. From Matthew, Chapter 7