Labor Day Weekend - the unofficial end of the summer vacation season - usually brings unwelcome news for school children and beach-loving adults. This year, however, offers some good news, at least for Cape May County drivers: the parkway construction aimed at removing the dangerous traffic lights along a three-mile stretch of the highway is about halfway done.
By next summer, it'll be almost compete. By November 2015, it should be done.
All three traffic lights are within a 3.5-mile stretch of the GSP in Middle Township, Cape May County. So for that tiny section of the 173 mile highway drivers often have to come to a complete stop and wait for the green light. The result is congestion at peak hours, dangerous driving conditions and a number of fatal accidents over the last decade.
This stretch of the Parkway was originally built in the 1940s by the state, according to NJ.com, which included the now-infamous traffic signals. The state ran out of money before they could complete the project, however. The Garden State Parkway later absorbed the patch of road, traffic signals and all.
By late fall 2015, those signals will be gone, replaced by three new overpasses that will carry Parkway traffic over the local roads that now intersect the Parkway with traffic signals. A series of new entrance and exit ramps will handle access to and from the highway.
The project started last year with the construction of temporary roadways next to the Parkway. Currently, traffic heading north towards Atlantic City is diverted onto a temporary roadway, while traffic heading south towards Cape May is on the northbound side of the Parkway as construction crews build the overpasses on the southbound side.
Once the southbound ramps are completed, the southbound side of the Parkway will reopen, northbound travelers will stay on the temporary roadway and construction crews will erect the overpasses on the northbound roadway. The crews will then remove the temporary roads and the project will be complete. The traffic lights will finally be removed once the overpasses on both sides of the Parkway are complete.
The construction will not impact traffic going forward any more than it already has, said Thomas Feeney, spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which handles the Garden State Parkway. The influx of summer visitors also did not cause any major disruptions, he said.
"I'm not aware of any traffic issues caused by the demands of summer visitors," Feeney said. "The Parkway is often congested along the Shore during peak summer travel periods, whether there is construction going on or not."
The construction is removing traffic signals from exits 9, 10 and 11 – just outside of Avalon and Stone Harbor – and installing interchanges at Shell Bay Avenue, Stone Harbor Boulevard and Crest Haven Road. Each of those roads will be widened to accommodate new traffic patterns, left turn lanes and road realignments.
Exit 10 at Stone Harbor Boulevard in particular will feature new traffic patterns. The construction plans include two new service roads on either side of the Parkway. To the west of the Parkway, a service road will extend south from Brighton Road to Mechanic Street. To the east of the Parkway, a service road will run north from Stone Harbor Boulevard to Holmes Landing Road. Properties that had direct access to the Parkway between those Stone Harbor Boulevard and Holmes Landing Road will have to use the service road to access the Parkway.
The Turnpike Authority estimates that the project will cost around $100 million, less than the original estimate of $125 million.
For now, traffic is still flowing up and down the turnpike and its surrounding roads. Drivers can expect the usual construction-related traffic, especially during peak hours and summer weekends. Drivers can check traffic notices over at the Cape May County Herald's website.