A $16.2 million federal grant to improve roads and infrastructure in Camden neighborhoods near the Ben Franklin Bridge is critical for the city, local and state officials said at a news conference Tuesday.
"Camden is rising," said U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.), who joined Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, City Council President Frank Moran, and New Jersey's U.S. senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.
The politicians stood at Third and Elm Streets, where the bridge could be seen in the background. Passersby drove slowly through the intersection, trying to see what was happening.
Roads will improve, jobs will increase, and neighborhoods will be safer, the officials said, describing Camden as a "renaissance" city that is making a comeback similar to Newark, where Booker once served as mayor.
"I believe the work Camden is doing can be a model for the rest of the country," Menendez said, calling the grant a victory.
The funding, awarded through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program under the U.S. Department of Transportation, will improve two miles of roads north of the bridge.
The grant program is intended to spur economic development. Camden was among 40 communities across the country that received the grants, totaling nearly $500 million, this year.
Anthony Perno, CEO of Cooper's Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit real estate development corporation based in Camden, said he expects the three-phase, two-year project to begin in the spring.
Called the Camden Connections for the Future Project, the grant will mostly benefit the Seventh Street area, which connects the bridge and North Camden to downtown. Roads in the Cooper's Poynt section also are to be improved.
"These federal funds couldn't come at a better time, as Camden continues to experience growth, attract new businesses and families, and become a prominent New Jersey destination," Booker said. He recognized his friendship with Redd, which began when he also was mayor of a distressed city. Many had given up on Camden and Newark, Booker said.
"In order to provide cities like Camden a path toward continued resurgence, we need to make adequate investments in our crumbling infrastructure that will create jobs and keep our region's economy moving forward," Booker said.
The grant follows an announcement last year by Liberty Property Trust that it is planning a $1 billion waterfront development.
"These advancements are laying the foundation for a first-class city, a place of choice for residents and businesses old and new," Redd said.