28th Street Signal Status Divides Ship Bottom Council

Oct 03, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

For the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck cast a vote to break a tie at a borough council meeting. His deciding vote was in favor of the county’s decision to turn the 28th Street light to blinking for the offseason, starting this week.

The final vote came after a lengthy debate, which included the mayor adding the discussion to the regular meeting’s agenda so members of the public had an opportunity to comment. In the end, Council President Edward English and  Councilmen Tom Tallon and David Hartmann voted in favor of sending a statement of no confidence in a study conducted by the county and asking that the light remain active. Councilmen Joe Valyo, Robert Butkus and Peter Rossi voted against sending the statement, acknowledging the county did its due diligence, and the light was going to be set to blink this week.

“It’s self-serving,” English said of other Island leaders who sent correspondence to the county in favor of turning the 28th Street traffic signal to blinking. “People just want to travel through town at 65 mph.”

The issue came to light recently after Huelsenbeck received word from county officials of their decision to turn the light to blink, saying they had conducted a study and determined there was no feasible reason to keep the light active during the offseason. The county’s decision to reconsider turning the light to blinking came after some discussion at a mayors association meeting about a year ago, according to Huelsenbeck.

He said for years the light had been set to blink during the offseason, and when the decision was made nearly two decades ago to keep the light active, it was done without the benefit of a study. In fact, the light remained active in the offseason only after a letter from the borough was sent to the county asking for a review of all traffic signals between 10th and 28th streets.

County officials erroneously believed that letter came from Huelsenbeck. It came from Tallon, who called the 28th Street signal study useless and questioned the time frames the county used in collecting data about the use of the light.

“It’s not fair they used December,” Hartmann agreed, saying he would like to see the light remain on until October and then turned to blinking. Ideally, he said, the county could turn the light back on in the early spring before the rest of the lights.

English, however, doesn’t believe allowing the light to blink at any point during the year is in the best interest of public safety.

“The traffic in the morning and afternoon,” he said, “you can’t get across the Boulevard unless that light turns red.”

Borough resident Barbara Bishop, who lives on 13th Street, agrees. She told the council she goes to Beach Haven at least twice a week and finds it impossible to turn left onto the Boulevard, even at 6:30 p.m. She’s always counted on the 28th Street light, 15 blocks south, turning red to safely navigate. It doesn’t stop all the traffic, she acknowledged.

“All the towns should make the decision together,” she continued, “of when the lights blink. You have to be paying attention. If you’re traveling from the south, it’s lights, lights, blinking and then lights.”

Bishop was referring to Surf City’s decision to have lights there set to blinking in the middle of last month, while most of the other Island communities left their lights active until this week. Barnegat Light also turns its light off right after Labor Day.

“You’re going to have a dilemma with the kite festival,” Bishop said of the three-day event slated for this weekend. “Turning the 28th Street (signal) to blinking is going to cause problems.”

Borough resident William Fenimore disagreed, saying he lives on the 28th Street block and has no trouble getting in or out. He said if the borough chose to act against the county’s recommendation and the light was left active, it could be liable if a motor vehicle accident occurred.

“East and west is not what we’re talking about,” Tallon said.

Every year for as long as anyone can remember, the county turns almost all the remaining lights on the Island to blinking the Monday after Chowderfest. Only the lights at Eighth and Ninth streets are active. Their status is determined by the state Department of Transportation because those two roads are considered a part of the Route 72 corridor, which the DOT owns and maintains.

— Gina G. Scala


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