A plan that has spent years in its design stage will remake Central Avenue in Seaside Heights into a picturesque thoroughfare with bicycle lanes, trees, safety features for drivers, and a cohesive aesthetic look.
The Central Avenue Improvement Plan was part of a $2.9 million aid package made available to Seaside Heights last year to fund a number of initiatives to spur development and restore aging buildings and infrastructure in town. Central Avenue has been a priority for borough officials for years, however funding for a comprehensive redesign of the roadway has faced financial hurdles, as well as bureaucratic entanglements since it is a county roadway that requires multiple levels of government to agree on a single plan.
Seaside Heights officials this week decided to submit one concept plan to the county for approval, with construction tentatively expected to begin after the 2024 summer season if local, county and state officials coordinate successfully.
“There were two conception plans developed, and we decided which one of those we preferred, which is what we will present to the county,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz. “It’s a county road, but the state has given us the money here in Seaside Heights, so we have to work with the state and the county to coordinate everything.”
The state looked favorably on the plan because it extends bicycle lanes from the Route 35 reconstruction project through Seaside Heights and, ultimately, into Seaside Park, creating bicycle accessibility up and down the entirety of the barrier island. The aesthetic improvements to the roadway – which hundreds of thousands of visitors use to enter Seaside Heights each summer – would also contribute to the renaissance of the borough’s ratable base, which has still yet to fully recover from Superstorm Sandy despite massive redevelopment projects approved and under construction.
“It’s going to have trees, lighting, additional parking and more,” said Vaz. “I believe we’re going to get 74 more parking spaces as well as a designated bicycle lane, which is something we very much need.”
The roadway will be fully reconstructed, eschewing the current design which provides motorists two lanes flowing in each direction (except in the first few northern blocks of town). While more lanes is sometimes seen as a way to relieve traffic, Seaside Heights officials have said the design creates more problems than it solves. From far opposite lanes, it is difficult for drivers to identify one-way streets, leading to cars traveling the wrong way, and also can create chaos when a vehicle is turning onto a street and other drivers quickly change lanes to pass them.
The concept design would re-create the roadway with one lane in each direction and a median with trees, elegant lighting and plantings in the middle. There would be carve-outs of the median where legal turns can be made, meaning, for example, that a one-way street would have a designated turning lane routing traffic in the correct direction. If a left turn would place a vehicle onto a wrong-way path, the median would block the driver from turning. But arrows and clear directional curvatures would guide drivers to places where such a turn would take them in the correct direction.
“There will be a median in the middle, with turning lanes at streets and both ways at each of the lights,” said Vaz.
Christopher Vaz, the borough administrator, said the plan will be presented to Ocean County officials soon and the agencies would work together to coordinate construction and utilize the state funding as approved in the plan submitted to the Department of Transportation. He also said the reconstruction of the roadway would bring new curbs and sidewalks, all in a similar aesthetic theme, amidst the grass, trees and other features that will make the roadway more attractive to bicyclists and pedestrians.
The plan has been in the works for several years, Anthony Vaz said, and officials had hoped work could be started over this off-season, however the review process will likely push the project into 2024. Work will not be performed during the busy summer season.
“It probably will not start until the fall of 2024,” said Vaz. “I thought it was going to start sooner, but it’s going to be absolutely beautiful and be a big transformation.”
“This is a project we’re really looking forward to having here, and it’s going to make things not only more attractive, but much safer,” the mayor added.