MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Randy Anthony has carefully followed the plans to build overpasses on the Garden State Parkway in the township, but he couldn’t visualize the impact until he saw it from his front step.
On Tuesday, he watched as half a dozen machines and trucks worked on Brighton Road and hundreds of cars passed on the highway a few hundred feet away. Not only was his noise buffer of trees gone, but his street is becoming a major throughway.
“Our way of life is going to change,” said Anthony, who has lived there for six years. “Saying that they’re going to take down the trees is a little different than what we’re seeing now.”
All along the site of the parkway traffic light removal project — from Exit 11 to Exit 9 — homes have been suddenly exposed after decades of hardly hearing or seeing the adjacent highway. Some effects may be temporary, but others will be irreversible.
For the people who live in the small neighborhood south of Stone Harbor Boulevard, changes will be dramatic. Brighton Road will go from a short, quiet side street to a direct route between Stone Harbor Boulevard and Mechanic Street, as well as the southbound entrance to the parkway.
Anthony has followed the project for years now and said he expects to lose a third of the value of his home from the changes. In mid-June, local attorney Mary D’Arcy Bittner will represent Anthony and his neighbor before state condemnation commissioners and make the argument they are not only entitled to the worth of easements on their properties, but also the loss of value to the remainder of their properties.
“Instead of looking at trees, you’re looking at an overpass,” D’Arcy Bittner said. “Instead of living on Brighton Road, which is essentially a dead end, you’re now living on a major access road and on-ramp to the parkway.”
She said this is a novel argument in such a case, akin to homeowners in a shore town being compensated for the creation of dunes that block their ocean view and lower their property value. She expects it to proceed to a jury trial after the hearing before the commissioners.
“We have fairness on our side,” she said.
Mayor Dan Lockwood said the area of the township near Brighton Road would likely see the worst effects of the work.
“That’s probably the most adversely impacted area,” he said.
In other areas, residents said the thicket of trees and shrubs removed in recent months had absorbed the sounds of the parkway.
Jim Waldron, who lives on Orbit Drive, north of Stone Harbor Boulevard, said the only time he could hear vehicles on the parkway during his 40 years of living there was during the annual Roar To The Shore motorcycle rally.
“With taking the trees down, the noise has definitely increased,” he said.
Waldron and his neighbors still have some trees between their homes and the road, so only brief glimpses of cars are visible through the vegetation. Still, Waldron said a noise barrier would be welcome.
Deputy Mayor Tim Donohue said barriers had been discussed throughout the planning and design process, and noise issues will be evaluated as the project proceeds. He did, however, say he sees downsides to barriers.
“We didn’t want to create a drive-through appearance for Middle Township,” he said, “where people enter the township and look at a brick wall so they just drive right through.”
That could hurt local businesses, he said.
“All we can try to do is stay on top of it, and as people bring issues to us we’ll try to address them,” he said.
Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said the agency has promised to evaluate the need for sound walls once the construction is finished.
Some of the areas that have been recently deforested will be replanted with trees to soften the visual and audible impacts of the work. Planners point out once work is complete, the road actually will be thinner overall and thus slightly farther from homes in places.
“I just think that’s kind of funny,” said Anthony, skeptical it would make any significant difference.
Parts of Golf Club Road, which runs parallel to the highway on its eastern side, now are exposed to the parkway, as are the side roads that intersect Golf Club Road.
On Third Avenue, Robert DeCecco can see cars on the parkway from his front porch now, while there were only trees for the 28 years he has lived there.
“I kind of miss some of those trees,” he said.
Yet he, like many other locals, noted he wants the traffic lights to go. He listed several bad accidents at the parkway intersections, and has had his own close calls.
“I don’t want to stand in the way of progress,” he said.
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