The rebuilding of one of New Jersey's most popular boardwalks is now under way.

Pilings are being driven 20 feet deep Wednesday for the 1.3-mile boardwalk in Belmar in the first major infrastructure project at the Jersey Shore since Hurricane Sandy.

Mayor Matt Doherty says seeing the boardwalk's reconstruction should help residents in the storm-damaged town to start to feel good again.

"Belmar has had a boardwalk every year since 1875. It's part of the character of the town, and our small businesses rely on a boardwalk to draw visitors and tourists," Doherty said. "All of our businesses in Belmar are owned by families and small-business owners, so it's imperative for them financially to have this boardwalk."

Gov. Chris Christie, who took part in Wednesday's ceremonies on the Belmar beach, emphasized that rebuilding from the storm is his top priority.

“The things that are most important right now to the people of this state is that we rebuild and recover from this storm," he said. "And that their neighbors and their friends get restored to their homes and their businesses, and that we get this state back to normal, as close to normal as we can, for the summer.”

Belmar residents who attended the groundbreaking ceremony say they're excited the project is under way.

A woman who lives three blocks from the ocean says the boardwalk is not just good for the town's economy, it also gives people a place to relax in peace.

Nick Fuccilli, who owns La Dolce Vita restaurant across the street from the ocean, says businesses in the town rely on the boardwalk to attract visitors.

"It's definitely the lifeblood of the town. Everything revolves around being able to come up to the ocean, having the boardwalk, people watch, and spending the afternoon with your family," he said. "So we're looking forward to it."

Belmar borrowed the money to finance the $6.5 million reconstruction cost and is hoping to be reimbursed by FEMA for at least 75 percent of that outlay.

The boards are expected to be ready once again for strolling in time for the Memorial Day weekend.