The Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA), and the Wildwoods’ municipal officials announced the completion of the Grand Gateway, an all-new visitor welcoming experience designed to launch everyone into vacation mode from the moment they arrive in the Wildwoods.
“The Wildwood Gateway project is one I am truly proud to have been a part of. I want to commend Freeholder Will Morey and our County Engineer Bob Church for the amazing project in coordination with many great federal, state, and local partners. This is a true collaboration and the results are amazing,” said Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton.
The culmination of five years of planning and preparation, construction work on this $13.7 million Cape May County-led Grand Gateway project commenced in February 2019. The Grand Gateway (featuring the newly named Beach Ball Boulevard) is designed to alleviate traffic congestion along the Rio Grande Corridor, improve drainage and evacuation capabilities, mitigate flooding, and is a visual stunner, welcoming visitors with new nostalgic Doo Wop style signage, lighting, streetscapes and architecture. The project stretches from the George Redding Bridge to Artic Avenue in the City of Wildwood and includes major road reconstruction and realignment, utility improvements, extensive streetscape improvements, and specialty lighting.
“Great collaborations set the foundation for great projects,” said Cape May County Freeholder Will Morey. “This fantastic Wildwoods Grand Gateway is a classic and inspiring example of government entities working together productively with vision; the result is a project where ‘the whole has become much greater than the sum of its parts’.”
As they make their way over the George Redding Bridge and onto the island, vacationers are welcomed by a ‘Welcome to the Wildwoods’ Doo Wop Style sign in the shape of a surfboard. With its vivid colors and lighting, it can be seen upon approach day or night, setting the tone for the great fun that lies ahead.
“If visitors ever had any doubt that they are welcomed and valued, this new Gateway sends the message loud and clear. The new Grand Gateway signifies your arrival into our exciting destination in a unique way that epitomizes the Wildwoods,” explained John Siciliano, executive director/CFO of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.
Additional prominent features of the Gateway include: a large digital billboard continuously announcing all the great events happening in the Wildwoods; a beautiful ocean wave mural on the large curving retaining wall of the all-new pumping station signifying that the excitement of the world-famous Wildwoods Boardwalk and beach are moments away; large colorful beach ball bollards, and soon-to-be-installed unique streetscaping artwork of beach balls directly on the pavement at the intersections of Susquehanna Avenue and Park Boulevard, creating drivable murals and reinforcing the Wildwoods’ special brand of family fun.
Upon their departure, visitors receive a fun, throw-back farewell message from the 1950s, displayed in two parts on the reverse sides of the digital billboard and surf board-shaped Doo-Wop sign. The digital billboard facing outgoing traffic bids “See Ya Later Alligator,” followed by the surfboard sign’s message, “After A While Crocodile.”
“We are always looking for new and exciting ways to attract families to the Wildwoods, including becoming deeply involved in the beautification of the island with new road ways, fixtures and streetscapes that are fun, functional, and distinctly the Wildwoods,” said Jack Morey, chairman of GWTIDA’s Strategic Planning Committee, which is responsible for the welcome sign, digital billboard, an ocean wave mural, and a number of the concrete beach balls placed throughout the streetscape. “The path forward is fresh, clean, family-themed, kitschy, not too serious, and quite a different experience than any other beach town on the Jersey Shore, and beyond,” he added.
The beautiful, newly paved, and widened four-lane street increases traffic flow, with separate turning lanes, allowing visitors to stylishly cruise to their destinations. Attractive street lighting, oversized concrete beach ball bollards scattered throughout the pristine new landscape, and even a new pocket park make for a fun and scenic ride. Pedestrians and cyclists alike can safely enjoy the Corridor with newly constructed bike lanes from the George Redding Bridge to Susquehanna Avenue on both sides of the street; and decorative ADA-compliant sidewalks consisting of stamped, colored concrete that resembles boardwalk planking give visitors a glimpse of what awaits them ahead.
The new Grand Gateway is more than an aesthetic improvement, however.
“The need for the project arose due to chronic year-round flooding causing significant traffic congestion issues. The new design addresses these issues by mitigating flooding and improving traffic flow, thanks to raised and wider streets, a new traffic pattern, additional turning lanes, and a new storm water pumping station,” said City of Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron. “It’s a wonderful way to welcome visitors to the destination, and for island residents, it represents pride, safety and relief from flooding and traffic headaches of years past,” he added.
Prior to the gateway improvements, it was common for flooding and road closures to occur at Susquehanna Avenue due to the low elevation of the intersection and inadequate drainage facilities. The new gateway mitigates chronic flooding by elevating portions of the roadway by up to 36”, which is above the historical high-water flood depths; and the installation of a dual chamber storm water pump station. The station measures 39’x48’ and has approximately 8 feet of interior storage depth. Seven pumps were installed in two separate chambers, three of which will work in unison to pump storm water. The remaining four pumps will be used to pump runoff and provide the city with the ability to connect off-site storm sewers into the pump station to assist in alleviating municipal street flooding.
Traffic Flow Improvements
Traffic congestion common along the corridor has been alleviated by widening roads, adding turning lanes and incorporating new ADA-compliant traffic signals. Safety of travelers by car, bus, bicycle or on foot has been greatly improved by the wider roads, the installation of ADA-compliant pedestrian sidewalks and the addition of bicycle routes on both sides of the corridor.
This required a complex and multi-faceted effort that included utility coordination and relocations along the entire project length, right-of-way acquisition of private and city properties, and changing the jurisdictional responsibilities of the roadway west of Susquehanna Avenue from NJDOT jurisdiction to the County of Cape May. Significant coordination was also needed with Atlantic City Electric and Verizon, as all aerial utilities had to be relocated; with adjacent private properties concerning new elevations and access patterns; with the NJDOT movable bridge operations in order to maintain power and operations of the bridge during construction; and with business owners in order to maintain business access during construction. Significant traffic staging operations were also implemented in order to maintain traffic flow at all times along the corridor.
Funding for the $13.7 million Grand Gateway was provided by the County of Cape May and also derived from the following sources:
The Greater Wildwood Tourism and Improvement Authority (GWTIDA) funded $350,000 for several signature features that distinguish the corridor and leave a lasting impression on visitors, including the themed welcome sign and new digital sign, an artistic mural on the pump station wall, and the dozens of large Wildwoods signature cement beach balls scattered along the corridor.
A portion of the road improvements is being funded by the State Annual Transportation Program Grant provided to the County in the amount of $4 million dollars.
The new “pocket park” is being financed with a County $170,000 Open Spaces Trust funding grant.
The county received $119,505 from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund for the remediation of an automobile service center formerly located at the site of the storm water pump station.
The $2.25 million pump station and associated drainage is funded in large part by a FEMA grant of $1.864 million dollars issued to the City of Wildwood and administered by the county on behalf of the city with the county providing the required 25% local match.
Beach Ball Boulevard is now a fun and functional, clearly recognizable part of the sensory overload of lights and Doo Wop design that is distinctly the Wildwoods, predicated on the colorful, elegantly tacky, bold and brash design era of the 1950’s, when neon lights, whacky shapes and humor dominated. Philadelphia architect Richard Stokes, who designed the now-famous 80-foot-long, 19-foot-high iconic ‘Wildwoods’ sign at the foot of the Wildwood Boardwalk, also designed the Grand Gateway as an extension to the larger-than-life brushed steel sign, which is aptly situation at the end of Beach Ball Boulevard at the Boardwalk; a fitting exclamation point to travelers’ journeys on the Corridor, as they then make their way to the beach, the boardwalk and their hotels for a fun family vacation in the Wildwoods.
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