Traffic builds at the intersection of the Garden State Parkway and Stone Harbor Boulevard in December. The plan to eliminate the traffic light and two others on the parkway creates the need to replace trees lost in the construction.

Dale Gerhard

WOODBRIDGE —- The New Jersey Turnpike Authority will pay the state DEP $382,500 for more than six acres of trees that will be cleared to make way for new interchanges in Cape May County.

In all, about 26 acres of trees will be cleared as the Garden State Parkway's only three traffic lights at exits 9, 10, and 11, are removed and replaced with full interchanges. About 20 acres of trees will be replanted on site, but space issues preclude the authority from replanting the remaining six acres, NJTA spokesman Tom Feeney said.

NJTA's board voted Tuesday to make the payment during its monthly board meeting at its offices in Middlesex County. The Department of Environmental Protection and NJTA agreed on the amount using a formula of $61,200 per acre. That will provide 204 trees per acre at the cost of $300 a tree, including two years of maintenance, according to the resolution.

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The money will be used to replant trees throughout Middle Township and the county.

"There’s not enough room to replant all 26 acres, so we make a payment to DEP, which they then use to plant trees elsewhere," Feeney said. "We're taking down 26 acres of trees, and 26 acres will be replanted either by us or by DEP."

The $125 million project will eliminate the lights at Shell Bay Avenue, Stone Harbor Boulevard and Crest Haven Road in Middle Township blamed for numerous accidents.

Some residents have raised concern over the loss of the trees, which they say shield them from noise and pollution. NJTA officials have said noise studies will be conducted after the project is completed to determine whether noise barriers are needed.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Turnpike Authority also voted to bond $1.4 billion to fund its capital program in the coming year.

Without the approval given at Tuesday's board meeting, the authority's capital fund, which has about $280 million remaining, would be fully depleted by May, Chief Financial Officer Donna Manuelli said.

A $7 billion capital program was approved in 2008, and the authority began bonding for money to finance the program the following year. This will mark the third time the authority has bonded for that program after a $1.6 billion bond in 2009 and a $1.8 billion bond in 2010.

The newest bonds will provide financing for the authority's capital improvements in the coming year, including the removal of the traffic lights and the construction of a new southbound portion of bridge over Great Egg Harbor Bay

The authority also voted to refinance $600 million in existing bonds, which is expected to yield a 7 percent savings, or as much as $25 million over time, Manuelli said.

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