During a busy summer weekend, brake lights can seen for miles as tourist converge on the intersection of the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway. State officials hope an ongoing project at the interchange will lessen those delays in the future.
But on Memorial Day weekend, motorist this year will again be greeted by the all-too-familiar sight of construction equipment, concrete barriers and orange traffic cones as construction continues at the interchange, which divides vacationers heading to Atlantic City and others heading through Atlantic County to Ocean City and Cape May. On a busy summer weekend, backs up for Exit 7S on the Atlantic City Expressway — the exit for the Parkway — can be up to seven miles long.
The ongoing $84.1 million project to improve traffic flow near interchanges 36, 37 and 38 in Egg Harbor Township and the $131 million Great Bay Harbor Bridge reconstruction project could lead to headaches for motorist over the holiday weekend. The projects along with an expected increase in Memorial Day weekend travelers, fueled by lower gas prices, could lead to traffic delays on the regions two busiest roads.
Nearly 34 million holiday travelers will drive to their Memorial Day destinations nationwide, an increase of 2.1 percent over last year as a result of lower gas prices, according to AAA.
On average more than 285,000 motorist use the Atlantic City Expressway during the holiday weekend, while on average more than 11,561 a day exit the expressway and merge on to parkway, according to the state.
The parkway project in Egg Harbor Township is expected to improve traffic flow around the closely grouped exits by adding a deceleration lane on the southbound parkway and an acceleration lane on Tilton Road at Exit 36, officials said. Highway officials have said this stretch of road has the highest crash rate on the southern part of the parkway.
While work continues on the project, some motorist feel that not enough progress has been made since it started.
“It looks the same since the last time I came down here two years ago,” said Thomas Stange, 53, of Cherry Hill, at the Frank S. Farley Service Plaza at mile marker 21.3 on the Atlantic City Expressway in Hammonton as he was heading home Tuesday from Cape May. “I hope that it improves traffic because it can really get backed up.”
As a way to improve safety along the stretch of roadway, the project includes the construction of a ramp separating traffic entering the parkway at Exit 38 from the Atlantic City Expressway and from traffic exiting the parkway at Exit 37 to Washington Avenue in Egg Harbor Township, said Thomas Feeney, spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
“Using an overpass to separate the traffic will eliminate a difficult weave that cars face,” Feeney said. “Construction of that ramp is nearly complete. It won’t be open by Memorial Day, but should be open a week or so afterward.”
On Friday, people using the eastbound Egg Harbor Toll Plaza between 5 and 6 p.m., will not have to pay the $3 dollar thanks to a Chickie’s and Pete’s.
A little further south along the Garden State Parkway, the sound of construction equipment dominates the area surround the Great Egg Harbor Bridge. Route 52 Contractors is in the process of replacing the southbound span of the Garden State Parkway bridge that connects Atlantic and Cape May counties as part of the project.
The new span is being built next to the existing southbound lanes over Great Egg Harbor and Drag Channel, Feeney said.
“Work continues on the span over Great Egg,” Feeney said. “Traffic is scheduled to be shifted onto that span this fall.”
Over the past couple of decades, the bridge has had its share of issues. The bridge carrying motorists south was built in 1955 and underwent $900,000 in emergency repairs in 2000, when cracks were found in steel supports known as hangers that hold sections of the span together. Last August, a concrete beam intended for the new construction fell onto the southbound span about midnight while crews were unloading it from a truck.
The accident illustrated the bridge’s importance— summer traffic was backed up for hours.
The continuous construction along the Garden State Parkway in the South Jersey has made driving hazardous for some, said Anthony Gable, a driver for AutoGlass Fitters in Pleasantville.
“The road is so bumpy, sometimes I’m afraid that glass in the back of my truck might break,” said Gable, 19, of Glassboro. “You have to be really careful because the lanes are all over the place. You go up and down the parkway and there is construction all over.”
Meanwhile, the state is detouring shore-bound traffic on Route 50 around the Tuckahoe River Bridge in Upper Township during its reconstruction over Memorial Day. Traffic will divert to Route 49 past the construction zone over the holiday weekend.