What if the road from Tuckerton to Atlantic City was built?

May 1, 2023

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Today, it’s a nearly untouched portion of New Jersey, but it could have been filled with houses, lagoons, businesses and the constant hum of human activity during the summer.

Narrow Great Bay Boulevard, also known as Seven Bridges Road, meanders through the marshes of Little Egg Harbor Township.

“If you lived in Bergen County, it was a major (road) trip to Atlantic City and probably wasn’t very pleasant,” said James Hughes, dean emeritus of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. 

Hughes says the state highway department was flush with money and “extraordinarily” powerful in the 1920s. Route 35, Route 34 and the Driscoll Bridge across the Raritan River were all being built. The state’s petroleum tax went directly to the agency, as opposed to the independent Transportation Trust Fund as is the case today. 

“Maybe Atlantic County politicians didn’t think it was worth the battle. Maybe they took improving Route 9 (over building Route S4A instead),” Hughes said. “You wouldn’t be saving that much time to get into Atlantic City.”

Both Hughes and Marino agree that Atlantic City and Brigantine would look similar today, even if Route S4A was built. 

Marino said the development of Brigantine would have occurred faster, though. In 1941, much of the city south of 40th Street South was still not developed. As of the 2020 Census, Brigantine has 7,716 residents. 

More than likely, it’d be southern Ocean County different.

“The area in Ocean County where S4A was proposed probably would have developed like Brigantine developed before World War II. A lot of small developments, summer homes,” Hughes said. “Only when the state would become more affluent (in the 1970s to 1990s), maybe there would have been houses of the type on Long Beach Island there.”

Able, Hughes and Marino all agreed that the environmental impact of the route would be great. The Edwin B. Forsythe National Refuge, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area and the North Brigantine Natural Area all are near the path of the incomplete S4A. 

“If this had become the equivalent (of) the Atlantic City Expressway, much of this natural area would have been destroyed,” Able said. That’s particularly critical to us at Rutgers because of the value of this location. This is … actually one of the cleanest and most pristine areas along the East Coast of the United States.”

Today, the Rutgers Marine Field Station, open since 1972, is a working lab. Researchers identify and track fish and crab larvae, observe coastal storms and more. 

Hughes said completing the project would have required trucking in fill for the road.

The Press of Atlantic City 4/29/23

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