ATLANTIC CITY – Elvis Cadavid and his staff at Vagabond Kitchen and Tap House get about 10 extra unplanned vacation days every year. Those are the high-tide, full-moon days when the intersection of the Black Horse Pike/Route 40 and West End Avenue floods and the restaurant is surrounded by a moat of seawater.
It’s something Cadavid has learned to live with, he said.
After owning the business for six years, Cadavid purchased the building three months ago and in October filed his first flood insurance claim. An October nor’easter forced a foot of saltwater into his kitchen and now he’s in the throes of a mold remediation project. He said he is working with an architect and an engineer to figure out how to waterproof the building.
“It’s gotten a lot worse since Hurricane Sandy,” he said.
Although the county recently made drainage improvements and repaved a long stretch of West End Avenue and Wellington Avenue in Ventnor, it did nothing to stop tidal flooding at the intersection, which is a major coastal evacuation route for all of Absecon Island.
The Ventnor City Board of Commissioners recently joined Atlantic City Council in passing a resolution to petition the New Jersey Department of Transportation to elevate the roadway and improve the intersection, or at least put it higher up on the DOT’s priority list.
Although a section of the Black Horse Pike and the bridge over Inside Thoroughfare was improved more than a dozen years ago, the intersection was not improved.
“Given that the constant flooding is only getting worse, it’s time to once again draw attention to it,” Atlantic City’s Sixth Ward Councilman Jesse O. Kurtz said.
The resolution, which was sent to the DOT, Lt. Sheila Oliver and District 2 New Jersey Legislators, states that the roadway floods at least monthly to the point of having to close the road to vehicular traffic, which interferes with commerce and hinders people when commuting to work.
“That intersection is a major thoroughfare into the city and an artery through the brightest spot for development in Atlantic City – The Gateway Project,” Kurtz said. “It’s not normal to have a major artery shut down so many times every month, which could be a deterrent to developing Bader Field.”
Although the DOT has plans to raise a mile-long stretch of the Black Horse Pike in nearby Egg Harbor Township that also floods regularly and a portion of Albany Avenue near the new Stockton University campus, there are currently no plans to fix the troublesome intersection.
“They barricade the area, and no one can get to my restaurant,” Cadavid said. “I’m sure they can fix it, but there’s just no money for it.”
Cadavid said he has attended several community meetings on the topic over the last three years and heard that funding previously earmarked for the project was diverted elsewhere.
“I guess they don’t see it as a priority,” he said.
“That is one of our main access points,” Ventnor Commissioner Lance Landgraf said. “It’s not just paving the road six inches higher. It’s raising the entire road 3 or 4 feet. That’s not something that’s easy to do. It creates issues with side streets,” he said.
He estimates the cost could be as much as $10 million and involve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building a seawall.
“It’s a heavy lift,” Landgraf said.
Although Margate’s planned evacuation route is over the Longport Bridge at the south end of the island, the Margate Board of Commissioners also passed a resolution supporting the effort at its Thursday, Dec. 6 meeting.
“This will help our neighboring cities of Ventnor and Atlantic City,” Commissioner John Amodeo said. “It is one of two known evacuation routes we would use in a state of emergency.”
Kurtz said he is willing to provide the leadership to collaborate with all levels of government to get intersection improvements on the DOT’s radar.
Because Rt. 40 is a state highway that crosses West End Avenue, a county road, and is surrounded by municipal cross streets, it will require coordination of efforts to get the project funded.
Kurtz, who is a member of the city’s Revenue and Finance Committee, said the city of Atlantic City is willing to partially fund a project.
Funding could come from various sources, including the state, county, regional transportation planning organizations and possibly the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, he said.
“If we can get a firm estimate of what it will cost, the city can help with grant searching and consider putting away capital funds every year to help fund it,” he said. “With a coordination of funding sources, hopefully, we can take a 10-year project and make it a 5-year project.”
The county did not respond to a request for information about its plans for the intersection.
Kurtz said he would look to Congressman-elect Jeff Van Drew, who was involved in the process of getting Parkway overpasses built in Cape May County, for advice.
“It’s up to our local leadership to pick up the ball to move it forward,” Kurtz said. “I won’t back down.”
Despite the constant flooding, owning and operating Vagabond is a worthy effort, Cadavid said.
“There’s still more of an upside than a downside to being here,” he said. “You can’t beat the sunsets and water views.”