Big changes are coming to downtown Toms River next year
TOMS RIVER — The township has been awarded a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve Herflicker Boulevard and access to waterfront businesses.
The project will elevate Herflicker Boulevard as a one-way street, convert Water Street into a one-way street and upgrade connecting roads.
And it's not the only change eyed for Toms River, which soon may see the Red Carpet Inn torn down and a new post office.
They're also hoping to add more social venues downtown in an effort to target millennials, which includes plans for a microbrewery and distillery. Both have been approved but the latter needs permits signed in order to move forward.
Toms River is one of the many Jersey Shore towns that do well during the summer months when tourists visit but their focus heading into 2019 and moving forward is to make it the place to be all year long.
They do well on the island but they want to focus on the downtown area.
"Ortley Beach will always be a draw for the summer tourism season but we are hoping to develop downtown as a year round tourist destination and that's apart of our master plan, "Toms River Assistant Planner Erika Stahl said. "Downtown is changing."
The newly opened Legion Square Village Apartment Complex near Toms River High School South is as much apart of their present as it is their future.
"If you want to be successful, you have to be able to have people walking around and that's one example right there of 55-units where people will be using the local stores and coffee shops," Mayor Thomas Kelaher said.
The street project's goal is to improve traffic circulation, reduce the number of turning movements at intersections, add pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, improve traffic movement and reduce the number of accidents.
Herflicker Boulevard will be elevated to limit flooding and so it can be used as an evacuation route during flood events.
"We're going to raise it about 2-3 feet and it will act as a dam," Kelaher said.
Rutala Associates, a Linwood planning firm, was retained by the municipality earlier this year to purse funding for this and other major projects.
"We will be looking to get additional grants for some of the other projects we're looking at such as potential parking decks," Stahl said. "We haven't submitted any applications at this point, we're trying to finalize new redevelopment plans for the area in need of rehabilitation."
Before any redevelopment work can happen, the Red Carpet Inn in downtown Toms River needs to be demolished.
"When that's torn down, from that corner there's going to be a half-moon shaped berm next to the Herflicker bridge," Kelaher said.
Once that happens, it'll set in forth a chain of improvement projects one by one until things are finished.
"We have a very elaborate redevelopment plan for the downtown area," Kelaher said.
Post Office property
On the agenda of their downtown schematics is an effort to relocate the post office.
"We can't use eminent domain against the post office because it's a federal agency but the postmaster was happy to get out of there," Kelaher said. "We have a spot for them by the Seacrest Mall. They would be happy to move, which would free up that whole square block where they park all of the white trucks. It would also free up a half of a block of parking."
He said Plan B is to construct a parking deck behind the post office.
"The Post Office would grant us airspace over the buildings and the plan would be retail and apartments in that airspace and a parking deck to accommodate the post office employees and the residents who would live there," Kelaher said.
The plans target all residents but especially millennials.
"There's a lot of nice spots along the river and this will just add to the development of downtown," Kelaher said. "It's consistent with what seems to be a trend especially with millenials who seem to be more interested in going back to the built up areas as oppose to suburbia because they want to be able to walk to restaurants and bars and shop locally."
They'll have to get DOT approval on some of the projects they're proposing and map out the rest of the designs.
"We will be required to comply with some DOT requirements first before we actually get permission to utilize the money," Stahl said. "After that, we'll have to hire an engineering consultant to come and design all the improvements and then once everything is designed we can go out to bid for a contractor to do the work."
Cycling and walking
Toms River has been also been selected to participate in the NJ Department of Transportation’s Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Local Technical Assistance Program.
They're working with NJDOT and its consultant, NV5 with a sub-consultant, Stokes Creative Group, on a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan along the mainland.
The plan will create, enhance and expand walking and bicycling facilities throughout the township.
“Toms River will benefit from having improved bicycle and pedestrian paths," Kelaher said. "This not only gives our residents and visitors another means of travel without having to use a car, but it also spurs recreational and physical activity for the whole family.”
The plan will identify a priority bicycle and pedestrian network that links key destinations such as schools, parks, downtown Toms River, Winding River Trail, and the developing River Walk trail.
Toms River’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan will be developed during the fall and spring and is expected to be completed by July 2019.