After 50 years of delays, abandoned plans and false starts, it's time to eliminate the only traffic lights on the Garden State Parkway.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is finalizing plans to build overpasses at three intersections in Cape May County between Exits 11 and 9 to get rid of the lights, something that's been talked about since 1961.

The traffic signals, at Crest Haven Road, Stone Harbor Boulevard and Shell Bay Avenue, are leftovers from the 1950s, when the road that would become the parkway was being cobbled together from smaller highways.

As you might expect, these intersections, the only places where local roads cross the 172-mile parkway, have seen many accidents, and some fatalities, over the years.

Now, finally, a three-year, $125 million project that will carry the parkway over those intersections is just about ready to begin. Contracts could be awarded as early as December, and work could begin next spring.

But some Middle Township residents are raising concerns that the construction of temporary roads to divert traffic during the project will destroy too many trees. Plans call for 26 acres of trees to be cut down. When the project is completed, trees will be replanted on 19 acres.

The tree-clearing worries environmentalists, who are also questioning the amount of wetlands that will be filled in during construction. Other residents are concerned about losing the noise buffer the trees provide.

Those are legitimate issues, but they shouldn't be a reason to hold up this overdue roadwork. The federal government is providing 20 percent of the project's funding, and further delays could endanger that money.

No project of this size can be done without disturbing some natural areas - or, unfortunately, without inconveniencing nearby residents.

The best you can usually hope for is that the benefits outweigh the temporary problems. As these things go, people living near the new overpasses will likely have to wait until construction is completed and noise studies are done to see what kind of barriers will be erected.

The project has already been delayed by a year because of environmental concerns. Contracts were supposed to have been awarded last year, but engineers had trouble finding suitable areas for wetland mitigation. A total of seven acres of new wetlands will be created to replace the 3.5 acres expected to be destroyed when ramps and overpasses are constructed.

While the value of wetlands is undisputed - and while South Jersey residents have been clear in their desire to see more trees, not fewer, lining the Garden State Parkway - it is well past time to get this job started.

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