EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Local residents said they are intrigued with the state's $83 million plan to relieve congestion at exits 36, 37 and 38 on the Garden State Parkway but hoped more could be done — especially at exit 36 near the Shore Mall.
Officials from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority met with residents and local officials for a three-hour public information meeting at the Egg Harbor Township Community Center. The state has plans for the 1.5-mile stretch they hope will reduce congestion on both the Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway and reduce accidents.
Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said all the testimony from the public will be recorded into the state's report on the project. A town hall style meeting where authority officials will formally address public questions will be held later on in the process, he said.
The plan calls for adding an accelerator lane on Tilton Road and a deceleration lane on the parkway to reduce congestion at exit 36 onto Tilton Road. It can be difficult to merge onto Tilton Road due to high speed traffic and thus the exit often has traffic backups and rear end collisions.
There are also plans to widen the ramp at exit 38 on the eastbound expressway to the southbound parkway to limit traffic backup. There are also plans to build a bridge on the expressway southbound as it merges with the parkway so motorists can get right onto the highway. Currently motorists travel onto the parkway into the lane for exit 37 and may not be able to merge over because of the traffic.
Lamis Malak, senior highway engineer for the authority, said the state worked with local officials on the plan and will work with other state agencies on permits and final design. Construction is expected to take place from 2014 to 2017, she said.
The state had originally proposed closing exit 37 since all three exits are so close together but local officials said it would have a negative impact on local businesses.
And they have more ideas on the project they want the state to consider.
Egg Harbor Township Committeeman John Carman said they proposed creating a ring road at exit 36 so motorists could access the Shore Mall or businesses on the Black Horse Pike instead of merging onto Tilton Road. Lamis said that would not be part of the state project but the local business owners and township could work on the design and fund that project on their own.
As various maps were set up in the center's meeting room authority officials described the plans to local residents as they envisioned how the new traffic pattern would work.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said the widening of the expressway onto the parkway would be a big benefit to motorists who are often stuck in traffic on weekends.
"That's something that would help traffic tremendously," he said.
But Whelan said he felt exit 36 could be made better — especially by adding the ring road to allow drivers to access more roadways.
Somers Point resident Tom Zimmerman said he did not think traffic backup on exit 36 would be improved because there are still multiple traffic lights on Tilton Road.
"It's an improvement, but is it ideal? I don't think so," he said. "I think more discussion needs ot be done. We need to think outside the box on this one."
Buena Vista resident Fred Akers, administrator for the Great Egg Harbor River Council environmental group, said he was happy to see there would be minimal construction and land used for the work on this project. He said he thought the plan would not dramatically change the 1.5-mile stretch of roadway but would enable it to accommodate more traffic.
"It's a much needed improvement," he said. "I don't see it as a major thing but anything that can help out with traffic safety and traffic flow is a plus."
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