Could we finally see NJ DOT pick up the pace on Route 37/166 road project?
Ocean County Freeholder Joe Vicari, who planned to 'shame' NJ over the delays of the Route 37-166 road project in Toms River, met with Governor Phil Murphy Friday to vent his frustrations and came away with some hope things will pick up.
It's gone on long enough. Road upgrades that started in 2016 don't seem to be close to being finished.
"The governor told me personally that he's going to get involved and that he's going to give a report back (this) week," Vicari told WOBM News.
The $11,700,000.00 project seems wonderful with what it has planned which will upgrade the intersection of Route 166 with Route 37 by installing a raised median barrier between opposing traffic, improve the roadway geometry, make traffic signal improvements between Highland Parkway and Old Freehold Road, and widen the roadway by constructing a new through lane on Route 166 northbound and southbound, according to the NJ DOT.
There will also be drainage improvements made, they'll construct a retaining wall along the west side of Route 166 adjacent to the Dover Mall redevelopment and put up more sign structures.
Vicari made a suggestion in his meeting with Governor Murphy and his staff he feels will pick things up again.
"Most people pass by there and there's very few people working there," Vicari said, so he suggests,"they have to work at night where it's less convenient from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am and they have to be sensitive to the needs of our small businesses."
Vicari said he had a 'friendly' conversation with Murphy about the road project about the lengthy stay of the DOT at this intersection.
"They've been working on this since 2016, it's a $12,000,000.00 project...a very expensive project...and unfortunately it does not increase the capacity of the road by one car," Vicari said. "It goes to show how the state of New Jersey plans things (but) I'm not blaming the new Governor Phil Murphy."
Reaching a near breaking point, Vicari's conversation with Murphy comes as tensions are rising in Toms River among all being affected.
"We're not happy with it. It's $12,000,000.00 of state taxpayers money," Vicari said. "The people are upset in the area, all the businesses and people that commute."
Vicari says the days of finger pointing instead of working are over and the days of better planning are now.
"We're not going to cast blame, we want to solve the problem and meet in the spirit of cooperation," Vicari said.
With businesses or restaurants being forced to close or detour traffic into their office, many are losing business because their driveways are blocked in.
"With good planning and thinking ahead and saying you know 'what can we do?'," Vicari said. "We can do two things...get the project done as soon as possible and with the least amount of inconvenience."
The meeting was productive, Murphy and his staff gave Vicari the time to make suggestions and discuss what needs to be done and in the urgent time frame it needs to be done in.
"He (Murphy) gave me his personal word he's going to look into it personally," Vicari said. "I believe he is sensitive to the problem and is going to come up with a plan."
When that will be is yet to be determined.
Vicari took a walk with Murphy's chief of staff to speak with business owners along this stretch of road to hear their concerns as well.
Among the issues, a lack of communication.
"No one knows what's going to happen, they (road crews) just come and shut down the business, they don't say anything and cars cannot access their parking lot so they lose days of business day after day after day. It cannot be tolerated anymore."
Vicari says reminds residents and drivers this is not a county project, which in part led to his meeting with Murphy.
But if you want to address your concerns on the project.
"We want our voices heard loud and clear," Vicari said. "I urge anyone that has any questions or if they're upset, to call the governor's office."
Vicari anticipates a report should be out this week but hopes this road project will be finished before 2019.
Last week the Board of Freeholders passed a formal resolution asking the state to complete the work as quickly as possible.
"This project was supposed to have been completed by now," Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said. "While I understand that the majority of delays occurred prior to Governor Murphy taking office, I am also concerned that with the approach of Memorial Day traffic delays at this intersection are only going to get worse.”
"Enough is enough," Vicari said in a recent letter to Murphy. "This project impedes the flow of traffic through one of the busiest areas of Toms River and we cannot wait until 2019 to see this work completed."
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