Ninth District legislators are working on legislation that would allow Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) funds to be used for the proposed Garden State Parkway-Route 30 interchange.
Sen. Jim Whelan, who represents the Second Legislative District, said the proposed legislation "isn't going anywhere."
Earlier this month, Sen. Christopher J. Connors proposed the use of CRDA funds to pay for the interchange, but Whelan countered this idea by pointing out that legislation enacted to create the Atlantic City Tourism District specified CRDA funds can only be used for projects within Atlantic City’s borders.
On Tuesday afternoon, the 9th District legislators announced their intention to introduce legislation that would allow the use of CRDA funds for highway projects via an agreement with the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund Authority.
The legislation defines the term “highway project” as “the planning, acquisition, engineering, construction, reconstruction or improvement of any highway with direct access to Atlantic City, if that project is within a 15-mile radius of the westernmost boundary of the Atlantic City Tourism District.”
According to the legislators, they were working on the legislation for over a month, but were unhappy with the initial draft.
“Initially, the funds were going to be tied to this specific project,” Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf said. “We’d rather see any highway project be able to benefit from this. This is a real solution to a concern we all have for the future.”
Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove will be the primary sponsors of the legislation in the Assembly. Rumpf said he hopes the legislation can be introduced as early as next week.
“We were always aware there was a law that would keep CRDA money in Atlantic City,” Connors said. “We were in support of it because prior to that, the money was available to go almost anywhere in the state. We were hoping to work out legislation that would allow funds to be used for highway projects. We recognize that as part of promoting Atlantic City, we’re promoting heavier traffic in the surrounding communities.”
It was legislation that received unanimous support, including from Connors, Rumpf and Gove.
"I still feel very strongly that the funds should be used to revitalize Atlantic City, but I don't see the harm in addressing the effects it has on the surrounding communities," Connors said.
He added that he felt the 15-mile radius didn't open the funding up to the entire state.
"We did pass the legislation, but we felt there had to be some mechanism in place for the surrounding communities," Connors said. "We have to explore all possibilities."
On Tuesday, Connors called the current limitation on CRDA funds an “existing impediment.”
“We thought we’d eliminate that impediment,” Connors said. “It’s bad enough we don’t have connecting flights through Atlantic City International Airport. We now have the Revel on the north end of Atlantic City, and the only direct link to that area is Route 30.”
However, Whelan insists the law doesn't allow for each district to pick which of their "pet projects" are eligible for CRDA funds.
"We won't allow each district to pick a pet project and suddenly, you're right back where you were," said Whelan, the chair of the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, which would consider the legislation. "We're at the point right now where we need to figure out how much we need to spend."
Whelan held a meeting with Turnpike Authority officials and Absecon Mayor Pete Elco on Oct. 12, at which time the Turnpike Authority indicated a feasibility study would take place in 2013. He said on Tuesday that all involved need to remain respectful of the process.
"An analysis will be done into next summer to determine if the project is practical," Whelan said. "It may not be practical, no matter how much I might want to do it or some other people might want to do it, and then we won't have to worry about funding. If it is practical, we have to determine how much is available and where we can get it from."