BEESLEYS POINT – Township officials have a vision for the new Garden State Parkway bridge’s bike and pedestrian path coming into a new gateway park near the Beesleys Point beach and possibly one day linking to a bike path along the railroad tracks used to deliver coal to the B.L. England power plant for decades.
Township engineer Paul Dietrich discussed plans for the most immediate improvements at a May 8 Upper Township Committee meeting. He said Cape May County freeholders held a hearing in April on $500,000 in Open Space funding for a gateway park on Harbor Road, and could give final approval next month. Township Committee has approved a shared services agreement with the county for the project.
The work would entail building a pavilion and expanding the parking lot near the foot of the bridge. Plans also call for drinking water, signage, lighting and other amenities.
Dietrich said the township is in line for another $250,000 from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the Garden State Parkway, for the gateway park. But that funding is not dedicated yet, he said.
“If the funds don’t come through you’re committed to doing the project,” Dietrich said of the shared services agreement with Cape May County.
He said the township still has time to get a letter from the NJTA committing to the $250,000 before county freeholders vote to approve the Open Space money in June.
Mayor Richard Palombo said that in the past the township was in talks with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) concerning turning the old railroad track from Butter Road to the B.L. England plant into a bike path. At the time, the DEP gave officials here a flat no, he said.
“They were concerned about flooding” if asphalt was but down for a bike path, Palombo said. He said the township could put down oyster shells instead. “It certainly goes along with what Cape May County is trying to do.”
Solicitor Dan Young said there is precedent for railroad companies to deed non-operating railroads to municipalities.
The county is funding a project to connect bike paths in Lower Township and Middle Township, which would allow bicyclists to ride from the Cape May Ferry Terminal north through the county.
The bike path on the Parkway bridge will link Upper Township and Somers Point. Palombo said a loop is possible from Beesleys Point, through Somers Point to the Route 52 causeway, into Ocean City and back into Upper Township if the county can figure out a way to build a bike path on the Roosevelt Boulevard Bridge.
“It would be an asset for the future,” he said.
The $130 million southbound Parkway bridge is now complete, with north- and southbound traffic using the span until a separate $50 million contract to repair the existing northbound Parkway bridge is finished. Workers have installed metal fencing atop the concrete barrier separating the bike and pedestrian path from vehicle traffic but it is not clear when the path will be open.