By Jay Cook|
MIDDLETOWN – Barren lots and bulky concrete structures mar sections of Route 36.
“For 39 years I’ve been here,” said Howard Moore, an Ideal Beach section resident, “I’ve just been staring at the same things.”
Now, there’s talk about doing something about it. The township hopes that a new initiative dubbed the “North Corridor” will bring a breath of fresh air to Middletown residents weary of the same old view out their car windows.
On Monday, about 30 Middletown residents with an interest in Route 36 came together in a Community Visioning Session, the second in a series, hosted by the township at the Middletown Arts Center. The first meeting, held Dec. 6, was all about brainstorming ways to revitalize the highway. At the second session, solutions were presented to the group by Maser Consulting, which has been retained for the redevelopment work as part of a Sandy Planning Assistance Grant.
Jay DeFelicis, the Maser Consulting project manager, said that a sense of relationship is sorely lacking along the “North Corridor” – Middletown’s segment, which extends from the Keansburg border to Atlantic Highlands. It includes the communities associated with North Middletown, Port Monmouth, Belford, Leonardo and Avenue D.
The proposal that would most quickly link these five sections together would be signage or identifying markers, unique to each section, yet sharing a theme.
“It takes a stretch of roadway and gives it an identity; it tells you where you are,” DeFelicis said. “They now become ‘places’ to outsiders.”
Also running along Route 36 is the Henry Hudson Trail, overseen by the Monmouth County Parks System. The 24-mile paved path allows bikers and runners to travel from Freehold to Highlands, through marshes down to the bayside.
Creating a link between the Middletown portion of the Henry Hudson Trail and the North Corridor would be beneficial, DeFelicis said.
While any improvements to the trail would have to come from the county, DeFelicis said some changes could help.
“I do believe by identifying it and giving it a sense of place does take it out of the anonymity,” he said.
Greening up the North Corridor with plantings could be beneficial. Just as the attractive Memorial Parkway stretch of Route 36 in Atlantic Highlands is designed – with a natural barrier separating the highway – the same could be done in Middletown.
One way to do that is through green streets, which DeFelicis said can change the way runoff flows onto the highway. For example, instead of water pooling in and flooding the cross-sections of the roadway at the Leonardo section, the water would flow off the road and be absorbed into roadside gardens. Outdated Jersey barriers that mark the median could be replaced with low shrubs and grasses that would need annual maintenance.
Greta Siwiec, another Ideal Beach resident, is in favor of doing whatever can be done to bring the area back to life.
“This whole area, all five of these sections, lend themselves to offering day-trip activities,” she said. “That right there is the big thing about this area.”
For Tom Garretson, who lived in Middletown as a young man in the 1950s, the stretch of highway is a far cry from his memories.
“We didn’t have four lanes – it was one down, one up,” he recalled. “We also didn’t have a divider in the middle. It was a lot of open land.”
Garretson has become familiar with the history of businesses on the corridor, and he believes attention should be paid to what would make potential shoppers stop. The vast parking lots in front of now vacant buildings are unattractive, he said.
He was optimistic that, with all levels of government working together, real upgrades could occur.
“With all the potential, the sky’s the limit,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen overnight.”
This story was originally published in the Feb. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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