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The renewed interest in completing the long-delayed Route 55 has rekindled the established traditions of bureaucracies.  The federal and state governments point at each other and say “you go first.” Meanwhile, state departments delight in throwing banana peels under the feet of those attempting to get something done. The 50-year history of efforts to get rid of the traffic lights on the Garden State Parkway is a prime example of the inability of government bureaucrats to get anything done unless extraordinary pressure is applied. One wonders if state leaders and the people who originally designed the intersections at Exits 9, 10 and 11 ever feel guilty about the deaths that occurred there. Now we will again see the federal/state bureaucratic shuffle in the discussions on whether or not to complete a highway that was started in the 1960s.

The discussion on completing Route 55 should not be centered on traffic delays that impede people from getting to the shore but rather on the far greater issue of getting people away from the coast during an emergency. Hurricane Sandy sparked a major response by the federal and state governments, the National Academy of Science, the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the nation’s leading academic institutions to study the vulnerability of coastal communities and develop a solution for times of emergencies. One finding of the studies was that Cape May County is rated as the nation’s fourth most difficult region to evacuate during a natural disaster. The fact that people will die because of the failure to have an adequate evacuation plan for Cape May County should spur everyone to act. As Brig. Gen. Kent D. Savre, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Atlantic Division, stated, “Coastal Storm risk management is a shared responsibility … for decision makers to assess risk and identify solutions.”

Using the reports required by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-2) and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (yes that is the correct title), the New Jersey Congressional Delegation, coordinated by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd), should convene a meeting of the Congressional Delegations of the states identified as the top 10 most difficult to evacuate.  The purpose of the meeting would be to coordinate the introduction of new authorization and appropriation bills to build and expand highways needed for the safe and efficient evacuation of people in a coastal storm emergency. Funding for work should be made a priority under the Federal Highway Act.

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