Atlantic County and state officials are moving forward with plans to divert airport traffic away from the newly reconfigured Airport Circle in Egg Harbor Township.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority decided Tuesday to split its direct connector project into two phases to provide relief to motorists more quickly than waiting for funding to become available for the entire connector project.
The first phase would result in two roads bypassing the maligned intersection of Delilah Road, Tilton Road and Amelia Earhart Boulevard. The work could go out for bid sometime after May.
“It’s not going to be the panacea,” said Sam Donelson, the SJTA’s acting executive director. “But, based on our traffic analysis, it should definitely make the situation better.”
Amelia Earhart Boulevard, the fifth leg of the Airport Circle, would be replaced with two access roads: a ramp leading to Tilton Road to the north and a two-lane road to Delilah Road east of the circle.
The reconfigured Airport Circle opened in November 2011 after more than 15 years of development and $5 million in construction and design costs. It was meant to make the circle safer and to accommodate increasing traffic.
Since its opening, motorists have complained that the redesign — a signalized circle with Delilah Road cutting through the middle — is confusing and ineffective. Every weekday at about 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., traffic backs up at the new lights as employees of the William J. Hughes Technical Center enter or leave the intersection.
The SJTA has budgeted $10 million for the new access roads in its 10-year capital budget, which was also approved Tuesday. Donelson said that includes an expected contribution of between $2 million to $3 million from Atlantic County.
The total cost of the connector project — which would eventually convey traffic directly from the Atlantic City Expressway to the Atlantic City International Airport, both overseen by the SJTA — is budgeted at $50 million. The connector would be a series of ramps and roadways linking the expressway and the airport, completely bypassing the surface roads.
“The full buildout is $40 (million) to $50 million, which is, frankly, money we don’t have right now,” Donelson said. “At the same time, we want to make access to the airport ... as easy as we can.”
The SJTA’s board approved an additional $700,000 Tuesday for the connector’s engineers, Lawrenceville-based Parsons Brinckerhoff, to design the new access roads. The total contract is now worth $4.9 million.
Design and permitting work on the access roads is expected to be complete by May, Donelson said, with the project going out to bid shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, County Executive Dennis Levinson said he’s considering “radical changes” to the circle itself and legal action against Dewberry, the Fairfax, Va.-based engineering firm that designed the reconfiguration.
“When you hand over a project to planners, engineers and designers and you pay money in good faith, you expect a competent product,” he said.
The redesign has improved safety at the circle, Levinson said, but it has failed in many other aspects.
“Of course, I said I wanted to make it safer,” he said. “That was accomplished. Unfortunately, I didn’t say I want to make it safer and not confusing. Perhaps I should have made sure I said that.”
A Dewberry spokesperson referred all questions to its client, the county.
Levinson said he appreciates the SJTA’s help in addressing the circle.
“This is just something that’s a problem, and unless we solve it, it’s going to be an ongoing problem,” he said.
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