With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021, the White House reported that $4.3 billion would be invested in roads, bridges, public transportation, and airports and ports in New Jersey.
As of February 2023, $3.2 billion was announced for state roads and bridges – $2.7 billion dollars allocated to highway formula funding and $492.2 million in formula funding for bridges.
But for some New Jerseyans, like many of the residents in Atlantic County and the legislators who represent them in Trenton, one question that remains unanswered to their satisfaction, is “Where’s the Money?”
Atlantic County is surrounded by water which causes its communities to face more infrastructure challenges than other counties in the state. Some of these issues include poor roads, flooding, a lack of dredging and limited public transportation. These obstacles have led to a lack of economic development and job opportunities, particularly in low income and minority communities.
In fact, the most recent available data this reporter could obtain from the American Society of Civil Engineers reveals that they gave New Jersey a D+ grade on its infrastructure report card.
Consider the challenges facing those who reside in Pleasantville, New Jersey, which sits right outside Atlantic City.
Most of Atlantic County is often referred to as “The Gateway to Atlantic City,” with the city of Pleasantville composed of approximately 21,000 residents – mostly African Americans and Hispanics, 39.4% and 49.1%, respectively, according to the 2022 Census.
This city faces one of the highest property tax rates in the state at 5% while suffering from one of the lowest per capita incomes in New Jersey at $21,631.
Pleasantville’s mayor, Judy Ward, who is the first Black mayor in Atlantic County and the first female to lead the helm in Pleasantville, expressed her concerns as her city continues to wait for the announced funds.
“As far as the money that we receive we haven’t seen it but I don’t think it’s only us,” she said. “I think it’s throughout – no one has seen the money. And as far as getting our fair share, no I don’t think that’s happened.”
Atlantic County commissioner and senate candidate Caren Fitzpatrick expressed similar sentiments about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“It has a lot of potential but it takes maintenance,” Fitzpatrick said. “And, you know in underserved communities, tax rates are higher because there are fixed costs, police, fire, roads and bridges. But the property assessments are low. So, tax rates have to be higher.”
The infrastructure issues that Pleasantville and other cities in the county face have the potential to create eminent danger. Assemblywoman Claire Swift of District Two in Atlantic County stressed the importance of addressing infrastructure concerns before tragedy strikes.
“There’s an issue here that we have at the shore – we live on a barrier island and we live near the water,” she said. “We have got to get money for dredging. Eleven years ago, we had Hurricane Sandy. A lot of areas have not been dredged, so all that landfill is still in our back bays and it’s causing flooding throughout Atlantic County, specifically in Pleasantville.”
District Two Assemblyman and former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian discussed his concerns over Route 40 floods.
“You can’t get in or out of Pleasantville on Route 40 once a month during high tide unless you have a police car and you don’t care [so] you go through the water. But for someone with common sense, you’re not going to do that. The people living in homes in these areas, they flood all the time.”
Ward also shared her disappointment with the lack of support from higher officials.
“We just had a big groundbreaking service … and the governor was supposed to come,” Ward said. “And I know that his schedule is very, very busy, but that same day he was in Atlantic City …
I think it should have been more of an effort to come here to show us the same respect. Even though we’re a smaller city the problems that we have are just as important.”