EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Officials are planning to install additional safety features at West Jersey and Fernwood avenues, the site of a fatal four-car accident late last month.
While the intersection is not congested enough to qualify for traffic signals, two fatal accidents have occurred there in the past five years. They are the only fatalities along West Jersey Avenue — a thoroughfare that extends northwest from the Shore Mall into Hamilton Township — recorded during that period of time.
“Work is being done now to place ‘Stop Ahead’ signs out there and possibly blinking red lights on the stop signs,” said Bob Watkins, the township’s deputy engineer.
The blinking lights should be installed this summer, he said, with additional pavement markings coming this fall.
But officials say inattentive driving — not problems with sightlines or speed limits — is responsible for the majority of the intersection’s 25 accidents since 2007.
“We had proper signs up, but it’s hard to prevent people from breaking the law,” Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said.
Police say the June 28 accident that took the life of a 57-year-old Port Republic man was caused when another driver disregarded a stop sign while driving south on Fernwood Avenue.
An ambulance driver was also cited for careless driving in March when his EHT Ambulance Squad vehicle struck a pickup while driving through the intersection en route to a call.
A 60-year-old Ventnor woman was killed there in 2009, and a 2003 bus accident left six children hurt.
Township Administrator Peter Miller said he doesn’t consider the intersection dangerous, especially considering accident rates at other intersections along West Jersey Avenue and in other areas of the township.
“The person who caused the accident is usually the person who disregards the stop sign” on Fernwood Avenue, Miller said. “They usually get away with it, except for that time.”
Unlike at West Jersey Avenue’s intersection with Spruce Avenue, cars stopped at West Jersey and Fernwood have an unimpeded view of oncoming traffic, he said. The township and Atlantic County partnered for a project last year to mill down the hump from the Atlantic County Bikeway and install a four-way signal at Spruce Avenue after years of accidents there.
Miller said it’s probable that impatient motorists stop at Fernwood Avenue’s intersection with the Bikeway, then continue out into the intersection without stopping again at the road. But that’s not a problem the township can fix, he said.
Despite having the only two fatal accidents, the Fernwood Avenue intersection has had fewer overall accidents than many other intersections along West Jersey Avenue, police data show.
McCullough said West Jersey Avenue as a whole has seen an increase in accidents in recent decades due to the township’s population growth.
“It’s a problem because of all the cross streets,” he said. “So many people have recently moved into Egg Harbor Township, and they’re not familiar with our roads.”
What started out as a rural road is now used as a cross-county thoroughfare, McCullough said.
“When people feel they can’t go down Fire Road, they go down West Jersey Avenue and take the cross streets to get where they’re going,” he said.
One possible solution, McCullough said, is to try to transfer maintenance of the road to the county.
“It’s the kind of road the county deals with: a long and wide street,” he said.
But similar negotiations about 15 years ago didn’t result in the county taking over West Jersey Avenue, McCullough said.
While West Jersey Avenue has become more traveled in recent decades, Miller said it would be very difficult to install traffic signals at more intersections under Department of Transportation guidelines.
“Their mantra is to keep traffic moving,” he said. “You have to demonstrate the volume of both streets is pretty similar and therefore neither side can safely wait to cross.”
That guideline, Miller said, doesn’t hold true for Fernwood Avenue. But it does for other intersections, such as English Creek and Dogwood avenues, which the township has targeted for traffic signals.
Miller said the process will probably take about a year and a half, as it did with West Jersey and Spruce avenues.
Accidents along West Jersey Avenue since 2007
Intersection with injuries with fatalities Total
Broadway Ave. 1 0 2
Spruce Ave. 22 0 62
Ridge Ave. 20 0 37
Fernwood Ave. 11 2 25
Tremont Ave. 7 0 16
Ivins Ave. 1 0 4
English Creek Ave. 11 0 76
Wedgewood Drive 1 0 13
Total 74 2 235
Source: Egg Harbor Township Police Department
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