Cumberland County's Planning Board on Wednesday adopted an ambitious transportation master plan that officials hope will in part lead to more economic development for residents.
One component of the plan involves encouraging businesses to create a cooperative worker-transport system to help residents get to and from their jobs.
The plan also stresses the importance of better coordination between the county-run Cumberland Area Transit System bus system and private transportation providers. The plan also calls for continued discussions with NJ Transit to provide more extensive bus service.
At the heart of the plan is a desire to provide a transportation system that could help improve Cumberland County's struggling economy.
Statistics from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development show the county had a 13 percent unemployment rate in November. The state's overall unemployment rate was 9 percent for that month, the latest for which statistics are available.
Overall, those numbers mean that 9,150 members of the county's estimated 71,250-person work force were without employment as of November.
While saying he wants more time to review the plan, new Cumberland County Economic Development Director James B. Watson said improving transportation is crucial to creating more jobs and luring new businesses to the county.
County residents long have complained about a lack of easy transportation.
Route 55 is the only four-lane highway that runs through Cumberland County, and even then on a limited basis. Route 55 turns into two-lane Route 47, also known as Delsea Drive, at its eastern terminus in Port Elizabeth in Maurice River Township.
None of the other major highways — such as the Garden State Parkway, Atlantic City Expressway, New Jersey Turnpike and Route 295 — that run through South Jersey are near Cumberland County.
Dependency on bus service is crucial for many residents in rural sections of the economically depressed county.
On Wednesday, the Planning Board unanimously approved the plan during a brief meeting at the county administration building.
County Planning Director Robert Brewer said the plan involved "18 months of dialogue" with different agencies and organizations. The final version of the plan will now be distributed to all the county's municipalities and the appropriate county government departments.
The report reads that roads and bridges in the county are operating within their capacities, and that freight rail is a "thriving sector of the county economy with good growth potential."
However, it also states that passenger rail service is "unlikely to return to the county in the near future."
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Copyright 2013 - The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.