WOODBRIDGE - Garden State Parkway motorists are being confronted with an array of construction projects from Asbury Park to Cape May County as more than $1 billion in upgrades are underway on the toll road's southern half.

However, when all of the construction is finished, a 65-mile stretch of the parkway between Monmouth and Atlantic counties will be transformed into a virtually rebuilt highway featuring new lanes, bridges and safety improvements. Bridge and road upgrades in Cape May County ensure the parkway's improvement to its southern terminus, the highway's operating agency says.

"There will be added capacity and fewer delays. It will be easier to move on the parkway up and down," Robert Fischer, acting chief engineer for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, said of the construction work during an interview at the agency's monthly board meeting Tuesday in Woodbridge.

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For the time being, the orange signs warning motorists of lane shifts, shoulder closings and work zones will remain a ubiquitous part of the parkway.

Parkway officials are urging drivers to be patient, because some of the work could stretch into 2018, including the final part of the reconstruction of the bridges spanning the Great Egg Harbor in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Fischer said construction crews are trying to minimize traffic disruptions by performing some of the work at night or during off-peak travel hours.

The northern part of the construction work involves a $331 million widening of the shoulders and existing travel lanes from the Asbury Park area in Monmouth County to Toms River in Ocean County. The project is expected to improve safety when completed in 2014.

Cape May County projects

Near the parkway's southern end, work has started to remove three traffic lights at Interchanges 9, 10 and 11 in Middle Township, Cape May County.

The $71.7 million project will eliminate the only traffic signals along the entire 175-mile parkway, at Crest Haven Road, Stone Harbor Boulevard and Shell Bay Avenue.

Those signals have been blamed for decades for backups and accidents. When the project is completed in 2015, traffic flow is expected to greatly improve.

One of the biggest parkway projects involves the bridges spanning Great Egg Harbor and Drag Channel, a critical link between Atlantic and Cape May counties. A new southbound bridge will be built, while the northbound span is going to be refurbished.

Construction of the new southbound span is scheduled for completion in 2016. This part of the nearly $130 million project also involves the demolition of the now-closed Beesleys Point Bridge on adjacent Route 9.

Once the new southbound span is built, a contract will be awarded to redeck the northbound bridge over Great Egg Harbor. The old southbound bridge will be demolished. Work is expected to continue into 2018 on the final stages of the bridge project.

Third-lane widening

The centerpiece of the parkway's reconstruction is a $900 million widening project that will add a third lane in each direction from Exit 80 in Ocean County to milepost 35 in Atlantic County.

Parkway officials are preparing to start the third phase of it in Atlantic County, stretching from Exit 48 at the Mullica River to milepost 35 in Egg Harbor Township. The project is in final design, and construction contracts are expected to be awarded in July or August, Fischer said. Completion of the third phase is scheduled for 2017.

The first phase of the widening project, completed in 2011, was done between Exit 80 in the Toms River area and Exit 63 into Long Beach Island, Ocean County. Work is proceeding on the second phase between Long Beach Island and the Mullica River.

As part of the second phase of the widening, the bridges over the Mullica River and Bass River are being enlarged and given a new deck.

The new third lane is open in some sections of the project's second phase, but the entire job won't be done until the Mullica and Bass River bridges are finished in 2015.

Atlantic County exits

In Atlantic County, construction has begun to create full exits at Interchanges 44 and 41 in Galloway Township. Those exits are considered a companion project and are scheduled for completion in 2015 at a cost of $32.6 million.

Plans call for Interchange 41 to have a new southbound and northbound entrance at Jimmie Leeds Road, where motorists are able to access the parkway through a service plaza that is not officially marked as an exit. Parkway food contractor HMSHost will build a new $7 million service plaza related to Interchange 41's reconstruction. The new service plaza is scheduled for completion in 2015.

In addition, a new $13.5 million State Police barracks is being built at Interchange 41. Completion of the barracks is set for 2014.

Interchange 44, at Pomona Road, will be upgraded into a full exit with new traffic lights and ramps.

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