Heavy traffic flows slowly through the Airport Circle in Egg Harbor Township at the end of November. 

Atlantic County and the South Jersey Transportation Authority are planning to partner on a project to open two access roads that would divert airport traffic away from the reconfigured Airport Circle in Egg Harbor Township.

The new circle, which opened a year ago, was designed with the idea that the SJTA’s direct connector between Atlantic City International Airport and the Atlantic City Expressway would be completed a short time later.

But with the connector unfunded and years from completion, the SJTA plans to split the access-road project into two phases.

“We’re breaking the project into two parts to improve traffic flow in and out of the airport,” said Sam Donelson, the SJTA’s acting executive director.

Donelson said the $8 million to $10 million access-road project is part of the SJTA’s capital budget, which will go before the quasiprivate authority’s board in two weeks. Preliminary discussions have put the county’s share of the project at about $2 million.

“What I think this demonstrates is state and county governments working together for the common good of residents of South Jersey,” Donelson said Friday. “This is what good government does.”

County Executive Dennis Levinson said the measure would greatly reduce traffic congestion around the intersection of Delilah Road, Tilton Road and Amelia Earhart Boulevard.

“Since (the connector) isn’t in the foreseeable future, we have to react to that,” he said. “We will partner with the SJTA to make it cheaper.”

The Airport Circle reconfiguration was first announced in 1996 but faced a long design and permitting period. The $5 million project finally opened in November 2011 to strong criticism from motorists.

It’s particularly congested about 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, when the circle is flooded with employees from the William J. Hughes Technical Center.

Some have complained that the newly installed traffic lights encourage reckless driving and that the new design is more confusing than the former conventional roundabout.

Despite the public outcry, officials say the redesign has worked to reduce accidents.

According to statistics revised Friday by Egg Harbor Township police, there have been 71 accidents and 12 injuries so far this year, compared with 93 accidents and 13 injuries for the entirety of 2011.

Donelson said phase one, if approved by the SJTA’s board, calls for the removal of Amelia Earhart Boulevard, the fifth leg of the Airport Circle that leads to the airport and the tech center.

In its place, two access roads would direct airport traffic away from the circle. One would lead to a ramp to Tilton Road to the north of the circle; the other would be a two-lane roadway with access to Delilah Road to the east.

“It will ... try to address surface transportation issues that will make access to the airport for both patrons and employees easier,” he said.

Both roads are separate from the existing access road through the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park. He said that road — currently used as a bypass around the circle by some Federal Aviation Administration employees — would eventually serve NextGen exclusively.

Donelson said the first phase could be put out for bid as early as April as long as design, right-of-way acquisition and permitting continues on schedule. It’s too early to determine how long construction will take, he said.

Donelson said the direct connector, which itself has an estimated cost of $30 million to $40 million, is in the designing stages but remains unfunded.

County Planning Director Joe Maher said the original plan was to have the reconfigured circle and the connector debut around the same time.

“It’s supposed to dovetail, but it never hits the mark exactly,” he said.

The two access roads offer a good alternative, Maher said. “As far as a conceptual plan, we like it,” he said.

Maher said the county has already indicated its interest in helping the SJTA once the various project components are approved.

Regardless of what happens, Levinson said, something is needed to alleviate traffic problems at the circle.

“We’re going to step forward on this and correct the situation,” he said.

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