GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Almost one year after residents and officials called for a full Garden State Parkway interchange at Exit 40 where motorists could connect to the White Horse Pike, there has been little movement on the project, just increased frustration.
Officials from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority met with residents and local officials at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey last August to explain the benefits of turning Exits 41 and 44 on the parkway into full interchanges.
Discussion, instead, turned to requests for a full interchange at Route 30. That discussion continues.
Township Councilman Jim McElwee and other local officials say the only way Galloway is going to be able to entice businesses to Route 30 is if there is parkway access there.
“We are in dire need of commercial ratables. I don’t know why NJTA wouldn’t have done that before these other projects,” McElwee said. “I don’t know why this wouldn’t have taken priority. We just keep getting the same answer that they’re doing these projects and they’ll look at this interchange later.”
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said there are several pieces to consider with a full interchange at Route 30, including traffic counts and environmental issues.
Last August, Whelan wrote a letter to the Turnpike Authority stating that “a full Route 30 interchange is where we should focus our resources and energy.” Whelan contended the growth in traffic would help Absecon and Galloway bring commercial ratables to the pike.
“My hope is that right now they are completing traffic counts. While everyone would like to just get to the finish line, that’s one of the first steps in this process,” Whelan said. “Given the seasonal nature of where we are here, it’s not an environment where you can go out and do the traffic count once. You have to do it twice.”
In December, the Turnpike Authority hired Stantec Consulting Services in Mount Laurel, Burlington County, to do a cost analysis for the project. That $110,000 study is ongoing, Turnpike Authority spokesman Thomas Feeney said.
The analysis is a six-month process, but the data have to include summer traffic so the report can analyze peak demand, Feeney wrote in an email Tuesday. Stantec is looking at traffic volumes to analyze the need for the interchange, studying possible configurations and developing cost estimates for each.
Despite the ongoing cost analysis, local officials remain frustrated as work begins at the new interchanges for Exits 41 and 44. Many allege the Turnpike Authority has refused to accept input or consider a full interchange at Exit 40.
“Why are they doing the study now? Why didn’t they do a feasibility study before they decided to do the other two interchanges?” Councilman Jim Gorman asked. “Don’t they think they should have had meetings in the communities before a study started to ask what do you want? But there has been no dialogue.”
The project at interchange 41 will include a new southbound and northbound entrance at Jimmie Leeds Road. Currently, motorists access the parkway through a service area at Jimmie Leeds that's not officially marked as an exit. Work is expected to be completed by September 2014.
The interchange 44 project at Pomona Road will feature an upgraded full exit with new traffic lights, exit ramps and bike lanes on Pomona Road. Construction is expected to be complete in August 2015.
But Gorman said an interchange at 40 is more important than the ones at 41 and 44. The Turnpike Authority’s priority should have been an interchange at 40 and then 44, he said.
If commercial ratables are going to come to Galloway and Absecon, the public needs to get off the parkway and onto the main road, and the road that is designed to handle the most traffic is Route 30, Gorman said.
State Sen. Chris Connors, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, applauded the ongoing road widening and expansion projects on the parkway, but said the state has to make sure that when it completes the widening projects it’s done with an eye toward the future expansion of a full interchange.
“We shouldn’t be doing one without the other. We just want to keep the 40 interchange on the front burner, because we feel there is a very important need for that improvement. There is a lot of traffic that utilizes that area,” Connors said.
Connors said legislators are continuing to wait for the results of the Stantec cost-analysis study because they are considering putting in a supplemental appropriation for a project at the 40 interchange.
Feeney wrote in an email that the claim that the authority refuses to accept any input or consider an interchange project is contradicted by the facts. Because of input from the public and elected officials, the Turnpike Authority is in the process of considering a project at Exit 40, he said.
The authority has had more public meetings in Galloway during the past three years than in any other town in the state, not including Woodbridge, Middlesex County, where the authority’s administrative offices are located, Feeney said.
Following the public’s input, the authority’s executive director, chief engineer and other officials had meetings with legislators in Districts 2 and 9 to discuss a possible interchange 40 project, he added. It was because of those meetings that the Turnpike Authority announced it would hire an engineering firm to conduct a study of the interchange.
Absecon Mayor John Armstrong acknowledges the authority has held meetings in the area, but he said those meetings have been primarily about interchanges 41 and 44.
“I don’t know what they’re doing. The meeting last year was not held for the purpose of discussing the 40 interchange. That was brought up by the people attending, not by the NJTA. As a local official, I am just exasperated,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he agrees with Galloway officials that a full interchange at 40 would enhance the economy there and in Absecon, as well as address the public-safety need for coastal evacuations.
The Turnpike Authority needs to provide answers as to why this is delayed, because at this point it seems as if the public is getting stiff-armed, Armstrong said.
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