EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Road crews recently began a project to eliminate median cut-throughs on a two-mile stretch of the Black Horse Pike, hoping to tame a dangerous stretch of road.
But for now, it's on pause because township officials said the state's design is unsafe, and neighbors have criticized the pace of construction while acknowledging the need.
Township officials have long lobbied the state to shut down the cut-throughs on the Black Horse Pike east of English Creek Avenue, saying these turns at intersections without traffic signals are dangerous.
About 29,000 cars use the road daily, according to state statistics. The speed limit on that stretch is 55 mph, but the cut-throughs allow drivers to dart across the highway, either enter full-speed traffic from a stand-still or slow to a halt while turning from the high-speed left-hand lane.
State Department of Transportation highway crash data show that between 2009 and 2013, one person was killed and 200 people were injured in 242 crashes across less than two miles between English Creek and Spruce avenues. Enrique Acosta, 73, was fatally struck in January 2013 while crossing the Black Horse Pike's eastbound lanes on foot at Fernwood Avenue.
Contract documents with Mount Construction, of Berlin, say the $1.5 million project is designed to replace storm drains and close median cut-throughs between Ivins and Spruce avenues, and wrap up by September 2014.
Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Schapiro said the project would close eight cut-throughs.
"Basically, what is being done is increasing the safety, so you don't have cars shooting across the street or stopping in the left-hand lane to make a turn," Schapiro said.
Other improvements include dedicated turn lanes at Ivins, Tremont and Ridge avenues, Schapiro said. No new traffic lights are planned.
Construction began in late January, but Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough said the township's traffic safety officer found the state's plans unsafe and a review by Remington & Vernick Engineers, the township's traffic engineer, found the designs needed to be changed.
Peter Miller, the township's business administrator, said the state suspended work this month after the township asked them to wait while they resolved safety issues in the design.
Miller said the township has sought to get the cut-throughs eliminated since the 1990s. However, once the work started, he said, the contractor removed more of the cut-throughs than the township anticipated.
Miller said designs for expanded left-turn lanes meant that if more than one car tried to turn at intersections without traffic signals, both drivers' cars would block the others' view of oncoming traffic. He said he anticipated a response from the state this week.
Schapiro said he expects construction to resume sometime in the spring.
So far, the work has eliminated about a half-dozen median cut-throughs, requiring drivers to turn at the intersections with traffic signals - Spruce, Fernwood or English Creek avenues.
"I don't like it," said Ivins Avenue resident Daisy Vazquez, 50, "but what can I do?" The filled-in roads force her to travel a mile or so out of her way or cut through the neighborhood.
She acknowledged that crashes are rampant. "They need more lights here, more traffic lights," she said.
For now, the road seems safer with the construction, she said, but even now she hears accidents and near-collisions practically every day.
Her daughter, Daynette Arocho, lives next door. Vazquez said she pulled out onto the highway to go to one of her two jobs about six months ago when another car crashed into her from behind.
Charles W. Cain Jr., president of Auto Plaza at English Creek, said the partially completed work is cutting into his used-car business.
"Any opportunity to give a customer a chance to skip you is bad," he said, particularly now, in one of the busiest times of the year for car sales.
Cains said a former customer was driving by a year or two ago in his truck, in which had been installed a novelty car horn that played the first 12 notes of "Dixie."
The driver turned, waved, played the horn, and "the next thing you see is just blue smoke from where he locked up the wheels," Cain said. "He took three cars out."
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