State legislation that would require the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to hold at least two meetings a year in South Jersey counties passed the Senate on Thursday.

Intended to give Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties a greater voice in the authority’s projects, the legislation would call for meetings to be held in the three counties on a rotating basis. The push developed after the authority took on a massive tree-clearing project on the Garden State Parkway and then erected fencing around the Great Egg Harbor Bridge — two projects that were criticized by officials who said there wasn’t enough local input in the decisions.

The authority, which oversees the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, currently has its meetings at the authority’s administrative offices in Woodbridge, Middlesex County.

“For far too long, our part of the state was severely under-resourced in terms of transportation dollars,” said state Sen. Christopher Connors, R-Burlington, Ocean, Atlantic, who sponsored the bill. “Now that a greater number of large- and smaller-scale transportation projects are finally in the works to address the inadequacy of the area’s infrastructure, local residents need to have the ability to participate and play a larger role in the decision-making process regarding projects that will affect their communities.”

Sens. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, and Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, are also sponsors on the Senate legislation. Assemblyman Brian Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove, both R-Burlington, Ocean, Atlantic, sponsored the companion legislation that is awaiting action by the full Assembly.

Separate legislation that would require appointed members of the authority’s board to be residents of specific areas of the state awaits action in both the state Senate and Assembly. The authority’s eight-member board currently has one seat held by Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson. Three board members are from Monmouth County. Mercer, Middlesex and Bergen counties each have one member, and one seat is vacant.

The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution earlier this month in support of both pieces of legislation.

Freeholder Rich Dase, who sponsored the resolution, pointed to the authority’s plans to create full interchanges on the parkway at Exit 44 and newly created Exit 41 while not creating a full interchange at Exit 40 as a local issue that needs more attention.

“The NJTA is based in North Jersey, which makes it convenient to ignore us,” Dase said. “Both of these bills can only help our chances of making this common sense interchange become a reality and ensuring that in the future, local officials are consulted at the beginning of the planning process and on a regular basis,” Dase said.

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