BY TOM HESTER SR.
The state is about to begin widening the Garden State Park from two to three lanes in each direction along a 17-mile stretch in Ocean County, Gov. Jon Corzine announced Monday.
The $220 million project will widen the roadway from Milepost 63 in Stafford to Milepost 80 just south of Toms River in an effort to ease the flow of traffic on a route that is used by commuters and tourists and would play a role in any evacuation of the Jersey Shore.
The project also calls for installation of Express E-Zpass lanes at the Barnegat Toll Plaza and the rehabilitation and widening of the Mullica River Bridge. The work is expected to be completed by December 2011.
State officials said they expect the project will provide 1,500 jobs."The Garden State Parkway is a critical piece of New Jersey's highway infrastructure and a major transportation route to the Jersey Shore," Corzine said. "Not only will this multi-million dollar project boost the economy and create jobs, but commuters will spend less time stuck in traffic and families will have more time to enjoy our shore resort communities."
"This is a project that will improve quality of life and public safety," said state Transportation Commissioner Stephen Dilts, who serves as chairman of the Turnpike Authority, which operates the toll road. "This section of the highway is an important artery for commuters in Ocean County. It provides access for people from North and Central Jersey to Long Beach Island and other points along the Jersey Shore. And it serves as a critical coastal evacuation route. Allowing it to remain congested is simply not an option."
No federal or state tax dollars will be used to fund the project. It will be funded entirely through tolls and other Turnpike Authority revenue.
"Between Mileposts 67 and 80, traffic moves below the speed limit for an hour or more every day," said Turnpike Authority Executive Director Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. "Traffic engineers call that ‘capacity failure.' Motorists call it aggravation. Once this project is built, we can all call it a thing of the past."
The widening between Mileposts 63 and 80 is the first phase of a larger, $900 million project that will eventually see the Parkway widened from two lanes to three over the entire 50-mile stretch from Somers Point to Toms River.
Construction on the second phase, which covers the segment between Mileposts 48 and 63, is scheduled to begin in July 2011 and be completed by May 2013. Officials said construction on the third phase, between Mileposts 30 and 48, will be scheduled when funding permits.