EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — There is no restart date in sight for a disputed project to close highway cut-throughs on the Black Horse Pike, Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said, suggesting the roadway will be under construction well past its original late-summer planned completion date.
Consequently, McCullough said, the lengthy waits to turn from the Black Horse Pike to English Creek Avenue have led him to call state Department of Transportation James Simpson’s office Wednesday and ask permission to remove barrels blocking the cut-throughs until construction resumes. There was no immediate response.
The long-awaited $1.5 million project has been on hold since late January, after township officials objected to the state’s proposal once work started. The project would close eight cut-throughs on the highway’s median, and create both right- and left-hand turns at Ridge, Ivins and Tremont avenues — where there are no traffic lights.
State officials did discuss the project with McCullough and Township Administrator Peter Miller before construction, McCullough said, but the mayor said, “We’re not engineers.” The plan’s dangers only became apparent, McCullough said, after public safety officials saw the work under way.
Miller said the township fears what would happen if cars happened to be turning from opposite directions at intersections without traffic lights. Both vehicles could block the other driver from seeing oncoming traffic. And at highway speeds, Miller said the result could be catastrophic.
“We pointed out that they created a death trap,” he said.
State Department of Transportation officials met most recently with township officials in March. The state officials seemed initially receptive to the local officials and their proposals, Miller said. He said the state suggested allowing eastbound cars to turn left at Ridge Avenue and westbound cars to turn left at Tremont and Ivins avenues.
But the township still objected, Miller said, because this reworking would still send drivers a mile or more out of their way. The township wanted at least one more traffic light, and some way to protect cars that were waiting to turn.
As the 45-minute session ended, Miller said the state officials told him they were not there to change the plans.
Township representatives said the discussion left them frustrated, later warning the delays would cost taxpayers. At the March 26 meeting, township Committeeman Paul Hodson said, “Basically, they said, ‘It’s our road and we’ll do what we like.’”
“It was a very frustrating meeting because they were supposedly coming down here to resolve the issues with us,” Miller added.
Township Fire Chief William Danz, who previously offered to use his public safety role to forcibly re-open the closed intersections, told committee members that “my offer still stands.” Township police previously investigated reopening the road and concluded it was too hazardous.
On Wednesday, McCullough said state Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, was working to see what he could do. Brown, who also serves as attorney for the township’s Planning Board, could not be reached for comment.
State Department of Transportation spokesman Stephen Schapiro confirmed that state and township officials met to discuss the road, but he was unable to provide further details. He did not know what was the cost, if any, of the delays. While the project was originally planned to end in late summer, he did not know when work would restart or conclude.
On the highway, business owners said the delays have cost them customers: signs and orange barrels are blocking off about two miles of median crossings.
Louis C. Rosso, owner of Black Horse Pike Auto Sales, said construction has not helped the business.
The median openings were fine for those who know the rules of the road — which was next to no one, he said. Rosso wondered how many accidents have been caused by the cut-throughs, and questioned why officials never installed a traffic light at Ridge Avenue, an important thoroughfare.
Another problem, said employee Tina Correa, is that the construction temporarily eliminated the shoulders, a nuisance compounded by construction delays. Now, she said, drivers entering the pike have to rapidly accelerate or risk being hit by oncoming traffic, while drivers entering the used auto plaza face similar risks.
“The road is too fast,” she said.
Across the pike at the Sunnyside Hotel, manager Gary Patel said the company has missed out on business as eastbound drivers pass them by, unable to turn left onto Ridge Avenue.
There were four cars in the parking lot Monday afternoon. “Basically, nobody is coming here,” he said. “This is so important to us.”
As construction delays drag on, area residents have either grown accustomed to the construction or found new ways to circumvent the delays.
As Patel spoke, a westbound white Mazda3 stopped on the highway and pulled onto the median at Ridge Avenue. It threaded its way up the slight hill, past a “DO NOT ENTER” sign and orange construction barrel, and when the wave of oncoming cars finally passed, made a U-turn and headed back east.
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