Four Ocean County municipalities will be the focus of a new study into the network of major roads, with a particular focus on managing the explosive growth of Lakewood Township.
Lakewood, Toms River, Brick and Jackson will take part in the study, which will ultimately produce a new transportation master plan that will serve the four-town area. The process will include input from local, county and state officials, as well as the county engineering department. The first meeting will take place next week between Lakewood officials, Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly and County Engineer John Ernst. State Sen. Robert Singer is expected to attend as well due to his interest in obtaining state funding for the widening of Route 9, Kelly said.
“The reason the Route 9 corridor, and making that four lanes from Lakewood to Toms River is so important, is because the traffic flows there from the county roads,” said Kelly, explaining that the new study will be the largest of its kind since the county constructed the third bridge connecting downtown Toms River with Route 166 and South Toms River.
The input from municipal representatives will be collected before the engineering study begins, Ernst said.
“The most major development is occurring now is in Lakewood instead of Toms River,” he added.
The immense growth of Lakewood’ Orthodox Jewish community has led to explosive real estate development and, in turn, an increasing population which has put major pressure on roadways. The traffic, Kelly said, ultimate affects neighboring towns such as Brick and Toms River since county roads feed traffic into Lakewood from those towns, and entrances to the Garden State Parkway are found there.
In August, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority held a public meeting in Toms River to discuss ways traffic could be eased on Route 9. Local officials have frequently expressed frustration over the state’s inaction with regard to widening the highway from two lanes to four through the two towns. State officials have put off the project due to its potentially high cost.
Kelly said Singer wants to “be an advocate” for the funding of the project.
Lakewood’s population is currently estimated to have eclipsed 100,000 residents, nearly double the population recorded in the 2000 census.