Atlantic City Casinos Push Back on Atlantic Ave. Narrowing, File State Lawsuit

Posted on: December 28, 2023, 06:25h. 

Last updated on: December 29, 2023, 11:20h.

Several Atlantic City casinos have filed a lawsuit in New Jersey asking a state judge to halt a project that will significantly narrow Atlantic Avenue in the city’s resort corridor.

Atlantic City Atlantic Avenue narrowing lawsuit
Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City looking north past Caesars. Work has started on narrowing the road from four lanes to two in an effort to reduce accidents involving pedestrians. (Image: Google Maps)

In November, Atlantic City was allocated $10.3 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help pay for a narrowing of Atlantic Ave. between Boston Ave. and New Hampshire Ave. The federal funds come from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program.

Dubbed a “road diet,” the project is to reduce the number of vehicular lanes along the roughly 2.7-mile stretch from four down to two. The removed lanes will be replaced by ADA-accessible sidewalks, bike lanes, and wider pedestrian walkways.

A city-commissioned study found that there were 829 traffic accidents on the stretch of road between 2013 and 2017. Of those, over 9%, or 75 incidences, involved a pedestrian. Atlantic City officials, including Mayor Marty Small, believe narrowing the road will make the avenue safer for pedestrians and the public as a whole.

Five of the six casinos situated on the Boardwalk argue the narrowing will further congest traffic and worsen the arrival and departure experience for guests.

Casinos Seek Construction Stoppage

Construction on the $24 million undertaking that the state is bankrolling for the remaining $13.7 million began on Dec. 13.

In a lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court, Bally’s, Caesars, Hard Rock, Resorts, and Tropicana ask Judge Michael Blee to issue an injunction halting the work until a study on the road narrowing is completed. Ocean Casino Resort, which is the northernmost Boardwalk casino and will presumably be least impacted, is not participating in the litigation.

“We are fearful that this will cause congestion and traffic problems, all of which would detract from our customers’ experience in coming to and leaving our properties,” said Mark Giannantonio, president of Resorts and the Casino Association of New Jersey, the local gaming industry’s lobbying group in Trenton. “This change in traffic patterns on Atlantic Avenue could have very real public health, safety, and general welfare implications.”

Blee refused to issue an immediate order, as requested by the handful of plaintiffs last week. He’ll wait to make his final decision until he fields additional information during a hearing scheduled for Jan. 26.

Blee hasn’t exactly been a friend to the Atlantic City casinos.

In August 2022, Blee overturned the state’s decision to amend its Atlantic City PILOT (payment in lieu of tax) structure that it uses to determine how much property taxes the nine casinos must pay. State lawmakers agreed to remove iGaming from the calculation, which is based on annual gross gaming revenue. But Blee ruled the arrangement violated the New Jersey Constitution. An amendment to the legislation was later crafted to make Atlantic County whole on what it would receive with iGaming included.

Major Pedestrian Walkway

State and local officials argue more pedestrian and bicycle capabilities are needed along Atlantic Ave.

“Atlantic City, well known for its resorts, casinos, and Boardwalk, has a large share of residents who use alternative transportation modes daily: about 30% of its residents use public transit and 17% walk to work,” a July 2021 report from the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Research read. “On centrally-located Atlantic Avenue, high pedestrian volumes and a disproportionate number of traffic incidents have prompted several studies to determine the scope of needed infrastructure improvements to support pedestrian and bicycle safety and address deficiencies for vehicular travel.”

Attorneys representing the casinos seeking a suspension of construction say their clients are supportive of repaving Atlantic Ave. and synchronizing the road’s stoplights to improve traffic flow. But the resorts believe a more comprehensive study is warranted to examine the potential impacts that narrowing the road will have on traffic on neighboring roads.