Parkway lights

The traffic light on the Garden State Parkway at the intersection of Stone Harbor Boulevard looking south is one of three that will be removed when parkway ramps are built.

Dale Gerhard

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is expected to award a $72 million contract this morning to remove traffic lights and construct overpasses on the Garden State Parkway in Middle Township.

If approved at the authority’s Board of Commissioners meeting in Woodbridge, Middlesex County, the long-awaited project could begin in January and be completed by 2016.

“Other than the fact that it’s 10 years late, it’s on schedule,” Middle Township Mayor Dan Lockwood said.

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The authority received four bids on the project, all of which were below the $90 million to $110 million originally estimated for the cost of construction.

R.E. Pierson Construction Co., of Pilesgrove, Salem County, was the low bidder, at $71.7 million.

South State Inc., of Bridgeton, bid $72 million, A.P. Construction Inc., of Blackwood, Camden County, bid $87.3 million, and George Harms Construction Co., of Howell, Monmouth County, bid $87.8 million.

The plan calls for the removal of the traffic lights at three of the Garden State Parkway’s four signalized intersections. It will change the interchanges at Exits 9, 10 and 11 and construct overpasses at those locations.

The only light left on the entire highway will be that at Exit 0 in Lower Township.

The first steps of construction will be building diversionary roads in the median on the eastern side of the highway to allow traffic to pass through during construction. That work alone will take up most of 2013.

Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster said relocating the sewer lines, gas lines, water mains and other utilities in that area will be time-consuming, by itself. Several meetings are scheduled with the authority to discuss the work, he said.

Preliminary site work should begin in the next few weeks, authority spokesman Tom Feeney said.

The contract includes excavating 130,000 cubic yards of earth and supplying 121,700 tons of asphalt, 1.2 million pounds of steel and 4,500 feet of fence.

Lockwood said the project starting on time is less important than making sure the off-season work is completed before the congested summer season starts again. He said communication throughout the work will be important, too.

Some residents have voiced concerns about possible noise from both construction and the removal of trees serving as a sound buffer to make room for the diversionary road.

The authority has said noise for nearby homeowners would be addressed in a study at the end of the project, at which point it could be determined whether sound barriers are necessary.

Despite some scattered objections and suggestions for certain parts of the plan, it is popular with locals and visitors who believe the traffic lights are both annoying and dangerous.

“It’s probably going to be the biggest change that Middle Township’s going to see in my lifetime,” Lockwood said.

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