This 2001 photo shows the northbound Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector approaching the 1,957-foot-long cut-and-cover tunnel. A "full-build" approach, complete with standard-width shoulders, was not possible because of the location of the Atlantic Energy facility on the right. The photo was taken just after the connector was completed. (Photo by Christopher G. Mason.)
CONNECTING TO THE MARINA DISTRICT AND BRIGANTINE: Plans for a connection between the Atlantic City Expressway and the island community of Brigantine have been discussed since the expressway opened in 1965. For many years, only one link - NJ 87 (Brigantine Boulevard) - provided access between Brigantine and the New Jersey mainland. With the legalization of casino gambling in the late 1970's, heavy traffic has clogged the Brigantine Bridge.
In 1995, the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) announced plans for a four-lane connector highway and tunnel. The Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector, which connects the Atlantic City Expressway with the Marina district and Brigantine Island, will not only relieve congestion on the existing NJ 87, but also provide improved emergency evacuation capacity.
The SJTA, the NJDOT and the state-run Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funded two-thirds of the $330 million construction cost. Mirage Resorts, whose then-undeveloped property stood along the route, contributed the remaining $110 million.
BATTLE OF THE CASINO MOGULS: Just before the state announced plans for the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector, the Atlantic City government issued a request for proposals for development of the Marina district "H-tract," the former city dump. Steve Wynn, the president of Mirage Resorts, won a bid to develop Le Jardin, a $750 million casino resort in the "H-tract," on the location of the former city dump. Wynn's proposal defeated a competing bid from Donald Trump.
However, the announcement of the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector enraged rival casino owners. Trump, who has most of his casino holdings on the boardwalk, blasted the proposed route as a "driveway" that was to lead directly to Mirage's proposed Le Jardin development. He formed an unlikely alliance with other casino owners, and with a group of middle-class homeowners in the Westside neighborhood in the path of the tunnel.
Soon, the battle over the Atlantic City-Brigantine connector was no longer limited to the casino moguls. Several officials in northern New Jersey, along with pro-transit groups such as the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, joined in the opposition to the highway project, stating that the project siphoned transportation funds from other projects.
Nevertheless, the pro-connector forces prevailed. In 1997, Governor Christine Todd Whitman and other state officials expedited the approval and funding process for the connector. Upon final approval from Federal and state agencies, construction of the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector began on November 5, 1998.
Since construction began on the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector, Wynn's interests were bought out by MGM Grand, Inc., which went ahead with its own proposal for the $1 billion Borgata, a Tuscan-themed casino resort. (Plans for Le Jardin have since been abandoned.) In September 2000, Trump began discussions with state officials to drop all his litigation. In return for Trump withdrawing his lawsuits, the state added a ramp to the tunnel project to create direct access between the existing Trump Marina casino resort and the proposed Borgata project.
BUILDING THE CONNECTOR: Designed as a spur of the Atlantic City Expressway, the 2.3-mile-long Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector is comprised of 16 bridges, 15 ramps, 23 retaining walls, variable message signs, drainage and landscaping. The building of the connecting highway involved the implementation of environmental mitigation measures, relocation of utilities, improvement of local streets, relocation of several city blocks of residential housing, and the construction of a new landscaped park.
Under the "design-build" joint venture team of the Yonkers Contracting Company and the Granite Construction Company constructed a 1,957-foot-long, cut-and-cover tunnel with open depressed roadway sections on either end. More than 1,800 construction workers contributed to the project.
The tunnel, which has a 14-foot clearance, travels under a landscaped park and a residential area. It parallels a canal where the excavation ranged between 10 and 35 feet deep, and extends into loose sands some 30 feet below the water table. Supporting the sub-grade structure are storm water pump stations (one of which is 45 feet deep), ventilation systems, and related electrical and mechanical systems.
Ramps were constructed at the following locations:
Atlantic City Expressway Mississippi Avenue / Fairmount Avenue ("Midtown") Bacharach Boulevard / Atlantic City Convention Center US 30 (White Horse Pike; U-turn ramp provided at this location) Huron Avenue (Borgata casino-hotel and Trump Marina casino-hotel) NJ 87 (Brigantine Boulevard / Harrah's casino-hotel)
DESIGN COMPROMISES: The Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector has four 12-foot-wide lanes (two lanes in each direction), with each carriageway separated by a three-foot-high concrete ("Jersey") barrier. There are no shoulders along the section near Brigantine Boulevard, and limited-width shoulders on the elevated section and in the tunnel itself (only on the curves). Engineers made the other following design compromises:
In order to have the ramps for Bacharach Boulevard placed without having steep grades from either the Atlantic City Expressway or the Marina Tunnel, a two-track railroad grade crossing was constructed at this location. Advance warning signals alert motorists of trains approximately one-quarter mile before the crossing. Nevertheless, one pro-transit group, the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, raised questions about the railroad crossing located near the Atlantic City-New Jersey Transit rail terminal.
The ramp from Bacharach Boulevard to the eastbound connector lacks an acceleration lane; all traffic entering the connector must come to a full stop. Construction of such a lane would have required a prohibitively expensive relocation of the Atlantic Energy power facility.
Owing to these design compromises, the speed limit along the length of the connector is 35 MPH. Also owing to the design of the roadway, vehicles carrying hazardous materials are prohibited from using the connector.
THE CONNECTOR OPENS: On July 27, 2001, the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector had its grand opening celebration after 32 months of construction. The opening ceremonies included a tunnel walk and festivities that were open to the public. However, the opening of the tunnel was delayed by four days because of a last-minute failure of the tunnel communications system.
According to the SJTA, the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector carries approximately 25,000 vehicles per day (AADT). Despite being under the jurisdiction of the SJTA, the "tunnel" (as local residents call it) does not have any toll collection facilities.
In August 2002, the NJDOT added "lettered" exit tabs (A-G) to the exit signs along the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector. Some posters in the misc.transport.road newsgroup speculate that this exit lettering (instead of numbering) scheme was set up because of the many ramps within the 2.3 miles.
THE BORGATA RAMPS OPEN: On July 3, 2003, the SJTA opened ramps from the connector to the newly constructed Borgata casino-hotel. The hotel and connecting ramps still were under construction when the connector opened two years earlier.
This 2001 photo shows the southbound Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector at the NJ Transit railroad crossing, near the Atlantic City Convention Center and NJ Transit station. The at-grade railroad crossing was placed so that ramps could be constructed to connect to Bacharach Boulevard. (Photo by Chris Mason.)
SOURCES: "A Tunnel to Tomorrow," Casino Journal (July 1997); "DEP Reviews Atlantic City Tunnel Plan" by John Curran, The Bergen Record (6/04/1998); "Much Disputed Tunnel an Undeniable Reality" by John Curran, The Bergen Record (4/10/2000); "Trump, State Burying Hatchet in Tunnel Project" by Donald Wittkowski, The Atlantic City Press (9/21/2000); "Controversial Tunnel Opens in Atlantic City," WPVI-TV (7/27/2001); "Last Minute Problem Delays Long Awaited Tunnel" by Amy S. Rosenberg, The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/28/2001); "Inventory of Comparative Decking Projects," Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas (2001); Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers; Granite Construction Company; Modern Continental Construction Company; South Jersey Transportation Authority; Phil Case; Daniel T. Dey; Scott Kozel; Raymond C. Martin; Christopher G. Mason; Cliff Merz; Dan Moraseski; Mike Natale; Brian Polidoro; Sandy Smith; Jeff Taylor.
Atlantic City Expressway shield by James Lin. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company. Railroad crossing sign by Richard C. Moeur.