MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Susan Lin could only watch as heavy machinery sliced down trees on the edge of her property, clearing the way for a project that will also cut off access between her motel and the Garden State Parkway.
Lin has owned the Hyland Motor Inn since 2000, but she said it was built in 1949, before this section of the parkway itself. In fact, the only three traffic lights on the 173-mile route also predate the highway’s southernmost extension, which was completed in 1954.
As work ramps up to remove the lights, Lin hopes it will not mean the end of her Mechanic Street business as well.
“For the last 10 years, I was really worried,” she said, “but now I don’t have no choice. We will work harder and harder to keep our business open.”
Other business owners throughout Middle Township are anxiously awaiting the effects of the two-year project to build three overpasses at exits 9, 10 and 11.
“Most people are probably holding their breath,” said Dennis Roberts, owner of the Bellevue Tavern on Route 9, “but I think the business community is hopeful this will bring some business to the local economy.”
After a bad experience a decade ago with a two-year road construction project on Route 47, the township sought ideas early on to minimize any harm to the commercial properties from the parkway work, and maximize potential benefits.
During the course of meetings with local, county and state officials, the township’s Economic Development Council created a list of local businesses that would be distributed to all the construction workers in town with their paychecks.
Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said about 35 workers are currently on the site daily. At its peak, there will be 85.
Mark Siaoni, a member of the Economic Development Council, said officials with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Department of Transportation and contractor R.E. Pierson seemed happy to accommodate their needs.
“They were very supportive,” he said. “More than I thought, honestly.”
Construction started in March and is supposed to be complete by 2015. The only long-term detours should be over by the end of April, with traffic on the parkway being shifted to different lanes for the rest of the project.
On recent weekday nights, cars have been rerouted along Route 9, which runs parallel to the parkway along its entire length in the county. With little traffic on the roadway at those times during this part of the year, there have not been any major issues reported from the detours.
Chad Skinner, owner of Clary’s Country Corner Restaurant on Route 9, said he has seen few effects so far but had been hoping that more people traveling by his business would be a good thing.
“I had thought a lot of traffic was going to go on Route 9 and was going to pass us, and maybe the workers would come in and grab something to eat,” he said, “but nothing yet.”
Many other local businesses said the same. It is early in the process, but they are hoping for any boost they can get.
“The more business we have in the area, the better it is,” said Bob Williams, co-owner of Hugits Steaks and Things on Mechanic Street in Cape May Court House. “It’s definitely a positive sign.”
At the 35-room Hyland motel, Lin said she knows of at least one customer she’s gained so far from the project — an engineer from one of the entities involved who stayed the night.
She is hopeful she will not lose others, because in recent years more people are booking their rooms in advance online or over the phone. She once had much more walk-in business — likely enticed by her convenient location, which has a driveway that almost merges with the current Mechanic Street exit.
Once the overpass project is complete, the easiest way to get to her business will be to get off the parkway at Exit 10, turn right on Stone Harbor Boulevard, then turn left onto Brighton Street, where a new access road will be built to get to Mechanic Street. That access road will also extend down to Bennett Road to re-enter the parkway southbound.
Even as she watched machines felling trees on her front lawn, Lin sounded hopeful about those plans.
“I hope it will bring more construction people to stay here,” she said. “I hope this project will bring Cape May County and the local town more prosperity.”
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