Garden State Parkway officials are moving ahead with “long overdue” plans to rebuild a tricky intersection blamed for several fatal crashes at the southern tip of the toll road in Cape May County.
In another project, the parkway’s operating authority has entered into an agreement with Ocean County for a new park-and-ride lot at Interchange 58 in Little Egg Harbor Township.
Construction of both projects would represent the results of years of lobbying by state, county and local officials with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority for help in solving safety concerns and a lack of parking for parkway commuters.
In Cape May County, the parkway’s merge point with Route 109 will be rebuilt to improve a confusing intersection at the very end of the toll road in Lower Township. Over the years, the connection has been the scene of several fatal accidents, including some that resulted in motorists crashing into a house or utility poles where the parkway flows into local roads.
Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster noted that county officials have been pushing for the reconstructon of the parkway and Route 109 for as long as he has been in office — 23 years.
“It’s long overdue,” he said. “This has been an issue ever since I came down here.”
Stopgap measures have been made since the 1990s to try to improve safety. The parkway added flashing lights, warning signs and rumble strips to alert motorists that the high-speed road was coming to an end. Demolition crews tore down the house that had become a bizarre crash scene.
Foster said the intersection will be reconstructed with jughandles, or a clover leaf design, to control the movement of traffic between the parkway and Route 109. One major improvement will be to make it safer for motorists turning north onto the parkway from Route 109, he added.
“Anything that will reduce the number of crashes that occurred there would be a tremendous benefit,” Foster said.
Robert Fischer, chief engineer for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, estimated the cost of the project at $10 million. He said construction is expected to begin in the fall, taking about 12 months to complete.
The project is in the design phase. The turnpike authority has reached agreement with the New Jersey Department of Transportation to get the work underway.
“This will straighten out the road and make for a smoother drive from the parkway to Route 109,” Fischer said.
Foster explained that the area has become so dangerous because parkway motorists are abruptly confronted with the end of the high-speed road when it spills into Route 109.
“Basically, you’ve got the terminus of the parkway. You’ve got people driving 60 or 70 miles an hour for up to three hours and all of a sudden you have to go into an area that is not high speed,” he said.
Improvements to Route 109 are the latest in a series of parkway safety upgrades in Cape May County. Work has started on a $125 million project to remove three traffic signals at Exits 9, 10 and 11 in Middle Township that have bottled up traffic over the years. The lights are expected to be taken down this year and replaced with new overpasses by 2015.
Construction crews are also busy building a new southbound bridge to replace the aging parkway span that links Cape May and Atlantic counties over the Great Egg Harbor Bay. The $130 million bridge project is scheduled for completion in 2016.
Meanwhile, farther north on the parkway, plans are taking shape for a new park-and-ride spot at Interchange 58, Route 539 in Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County. A new agreement between the county and the turnpike authority will lead to the project’s design and permitting.
The authority will pay as much as $400,000 for designs and permits. The county will build the 80-space facility, but will be reimbursed by the authority for all construction costs, according to the agreement. The final cost and construction schedule have not yet been determined, although it is expected to take about a year to build the project once the preliminary work is finished, Fischer said.
Mike Fromosky, assistant administrator for Little Egg Harbor Township, said the municipality’s governing body supports construction of the park-and-ride facility.
In the meantime, commuters are currently using what are basically smaller, makeshift parking lots scattered around Route 539 and other local roads, Fromosky noted.
“The cars weren’t ever left in a legitimate area,” he said. “Now, they’ll have a facility that is designed for them to park.”
Fromosky said local residents need a park-and-ride facility to carpool to their jobs in Trenton, Atlantic City and elsewhere.
“They’re going to work in a number of directions,” he said. “Little Egg Harbor is centrally located. You can get to New York, Philly and Atlantic City all within an hour and a half.”
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