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Press of Atlantic City - Obama Uses Route 52 Causeway Between Ocean City - Somers Point as Model for Federal Investment and Economic Stimulus

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by Michael Miller

A report by President Barack Obama's administration Wednesday used the Route 52 causeway as an example of how federal investment in infrastructure helps the economy.

The 22-page report prepared by the President's Council of Economic Advisers said projects such as the new $400 million causeway linking Somers Point and Ocean City lead to improved economic efficiency, higher productivity, and more rapid economic growth.

Obama is pushing Congress to fund $50 billion in transportation work on highways, bridges, and rail service through the American Jobs Act, which the Senate rejected in October. The president wants to fund $10 billion in additional work through a new National Infrastructure Bank.

But the proposal comes at a time when many politicians are pushing to reduce federal debt. Republicans blocked the measure in the Senate in October in part because it limited tax deductions on people who made more than $200,000 per year.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said the report "redefines absurdity."

Both phases of construction on Route 52 were fully funded when the state Department of Transportation in 2009 diverted $70 million in federal stimulus money to help pay for the causeway, LoBiondo said. The state's rationale at the time was the diversion would free up money for other projects. But the agency has never identified which projects benefited from this diversion.

"The money from the stimulus was not even reprogrammed into other transportation projects. It was reprogrammed into the Corzine budget wormhole which disappeared," LoBiondo said of Democratic former Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

"Tens of millions of dollars disappeared. You'd think someone in the (Obama) administration would understand when they're talking about jobs and infrastructure, they wouldn't take this example," he said.

LoBiondo said the stimulus money for the Ocean City bridge did not create a single new job in New Jersey since the bids had already been awarded by then.

"If the stimulus package had performed as promised, you wouldn't have an unemployment rate of 9 percent," he said.

Instead of borrowing more money, Congress should reauthorize a six-year Highway Trust Fund using federal gas taxes to pay for projects, LoBiondo said.

"We should do that instead of borrowing additional money from the Chinese who are not our friends," he said.

In remarks Tuesday on the Senate floor broadcast on C-SPAN, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., pointed to the Route 52 causeway as a public-investment success story.

"This is a critical $400 million project that is an investment in New Jersey, in our community, in our infrastructure that will upgrade an old bridge to meet today's needs, protect the community, and put people to work," Menendez said.

Menendez said 36 percent of New Jersey's bridges are deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Another 78 percent of the state's major roads are listed in poor condition, while 64 percent of its highways are chronically congested.

He lobbied his colleagues to pass the American Jobs Act despite objections by some Republicans and members of the tea party.

"I have had New Jerseyans come up to me, sometimes with tears in their eyes, saying, "This is the first time in my life I have been unemployed,'" Menendez said.

Besides the financial hardships, the latest recession violates the social contract that promises if people work hard and make sacrifices, they will get ahead, he said.

The president's report noted Route 52 gives Ocean City a more reliable evacuation route and eases summer traffic congestion caused by the regular lifting of drawbridges to let marine traffic pass on the busy Great Egg Harbor Bay.

The project is slated for completion in May. But the report said South Jersey has already realized benefits from the project, which is replacing two dilapidated drawbridges with fixed spans and eliminating the Somers Point traffic circle.

On that point, local officials agree. Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser said the new bridge will help both Cape May and Atlantic counties.

"We're exceedingly happy the bridge is being completed and will be done by Memorial Day. Once it's done, I see it helping the entire area, not just the Route 52 corridor," Glasser said.

The report noted that the project does not increase traffic capacity since the causeway leads to other congested roads in Somers Point, particularly the two-lane Laurel Drive leading to and from the Garden State Parkway.

Glasser said Somers Point received $220,000 from New Jersey to improve this road.

"That's been a problem for years," Glasser said. "It's the only exit along the Garden State Parkway that empties into a residential area."

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