The annual Seaside Heights St. Patrick’s Day parade is officially a go. But hours before the first float begins rolling, apprehensive motorists were hoping they wouldn’t be brought to a halt thanks to detours and lane closures as part of the ongoing Route 35 reconstruction project.
Two weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday much like the one forecast for parade day, drivers got caught in hours of delays as tens of thousands of people packed the borough for the annual charity Polar Plunge event.
Ever since, local officials have been scrambling to do whatever they can to avoid a repeat of the Feb. 22 traffic jam despite what some have called a lack of cooperation from the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the reconstruction project. At the heart of local worries is the fact that the project affects the inbound and outbound lanes of the Route 37 bridge.
State transportation officials have already taken one step promised to local community leaders in preparation for parade day. By Thursday night, two lanes were opened in and out of Seaside Heights, compared to only one lane on plunge day.
The merge into a single lane from three on the Route 37 bridge was blamed for a bottleneck that stretched for miles two weeks ago.
On Route 35, however, the regular detours were still in place. Crews were seen repainting lane stripes in the area of Route 35 north in Ortley Beach which now carries traffic in both directions thanks to the detour.
Seaside Heights officials have promised an easier ride in than two weeks ago. Borough Administrator John Camera told NJ.com that state transportation officials promised parade day would be "ten times better than it was during the Polar Bear Plunge."Toms River officials were also working with the state agency, as well as their counterparts in Seaside Heights, to create a traffic management plan.
According to Chief Mitch Little, plans are being coordinated between Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, Lavallette, and Toms River as well as the Ocean County Sheriff's Department.
"Visitors should expect some delays and plan accordingly," said Little. "We are doing the best we can considering the amount of roadwork being completed to be ready for the tourist summer season."
The parade kicks off at 12 noon from J. Street in Seaside Park and travels north on Boulevard to Hancock Avenue in Seaside Heights.