In the heartbeat of Atlantic City, where the thrumming neon lights of casinos beckon, a battle over the veins of the metropolis – Atlantic Avenue – has found its pulse quickened by the gavel of justice. Despite the formidable opposition from a quintet of Boardwalk casinos and a stalwart local healthcare system, the plans to constrict the avenue will march on unabated.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael Blee, in a decisive twist on a wintery Friday, cast aside the casinos’ plea to stem the arterial ‘road diet’ taking Atlantic Avenue from a robust four lanes to a leaner two. The plaintiffs, wielding fears of choking traffic and hindered emergency access to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, found their claims of irreparable harm unpersuasive under the scrutinizing eyes of the law.
“For irrevocable wounds are not to be found in the daily tribulations of travel and transit,” proclaimed Blee, underscoring the transient nature of inconvenience when weighed against the grand judicial scales.
Atlantic City’s officials, helmed by Mayor Marty Small Sr., have their sights set on the horizon of pedestrian safety, envisioning the main thoroughfare less as a battleground for vehicular supremacy, and more as a haven for those on foot. Their ambitions stem from stark statistics: with over 800 vehicle mishaps in four years, and nearly a tenth ensnaring pedestrians in their wake, the need for change beckons.
The solution is simple in its elegance: a slimming down of vehicular lanes coupled with the expansion of sidewalks to embrace foot traffic, bringing a semblance of peace to the land of slots and roulette.
But peace is a distant dream for Bally’s, Caesars, Hard Rock, Resorts, and Tropicana, as visions of clogged avenues sour their anticipation of guest arrivals. Like prophets of doom, they decry the future of congested transit, where the welcome mat lies hidden behind a curtain of exhaust and delay.
Guests of these gaming emporiums must navigate the streets, arriving from Baltic and Christopher Columbus before charting a course to their chosen palace of chance. And therein lies the source of concern, amplified by the rhythmic pulse of the city’s busy summer life.
Stepping back from the fray are Ocean Casino Resort and the triumvirate of Marina District casinos – Borgata, Harrah’s, and Golden Nugget — their silence in the litigation as notable as their absence.
A trial looms on the distant horizon of 2025, by which time the cityscape would have already adapted to its new contours. The road project, which dashed into being just last month, is swiftly reaching its halfway milestone.
Should the casinos’ fortunes turn favorably in this judicial roulette, Judge Blee has suggested a path of revision, where the paintbrush could again redraw Atlantic Avenue into its erstwhile four-lane glory.
Amidst this, the specter of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s (CRDA) potential sanction hangs over the proceedings, though it remained a specter only, its absence from the litigation a tacit admission of the state’s overarching authority, as confirmed by Blee.
This is but the latest fray where Judge Blee’s verdicts have thrown a shadow over the casino industry’s ventures. Not a year past, he struck down a legislative pact that sought to ease the financial undertakings of these gambling giants, a controversy born from the state’s leniency towards excluding certain revenue streams from property tax calculations — a maneuver Blee found constitutionally lacking.
As the gavel falls and the road narrows, Atlantic City marches forward, a blend of anticipation and deflation stirring in its wake. The road may constrict, but the pulse of the city – relentless, vibrant, and ever-changing – continues to beat.