New Jersey transportation officials have decided against embarking of a widening project of Route 9 in the congested area of Toms River and Lakewood, leading county officials to fume and request reconsideration from Trenton.
The county freeholder board adopted a resolution at its June 17 meeting calling on the state to reconsider its decision and move ahead with the reconstruction and widening of the highway, which remains in a one-lane north and one lane south configuration for the majority of its path through the two large towns. Route 9 will likely gain traffic now that a fresh round of toll hikes have been approved for the Garden State Parkway.
“We cannot believe that even after the completion of a study of this area of Route 9 clearly shows widening will greatly improve safety and traffic flow on this road – a major corridor in Ocean County – we have again been told by the state it’s not going to happen,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “We are calling on the NJDOT to fund the major improvement project as this is the help we need to bring this important corridor into the current century.”
For years, municipal and county leaders have been pleading with the state to upgrade the roadway with a project that would include widening the road and adding new lanes. The state is proposing to perform pavement upgrades and some low cost, high impact intersection improvements to the corridor, but will not invest in a physical expansion of the highway.
“Clearly abandoning the larger scope of this proposal does nothing but exacerbate further a critical transportation problem that is being experienced daily on this roadway,” Freeholder Jack Kelly said.
Ocean County officials say there is a growing concern of what the future will hold for the area without major improvements to Route 9, especially with rapid growth in Lakewood and more businesses springing up along the highway in Toms River as the western portion of the township becomes more highly developed.
“Route 9 in Ocean County has not been widened or drastically improved since the days of the stagecoach,” Vicari said. “This particular area – between Lakewood and Toms River – is our fastest growing area and the decision to not do the major widening improvements creates nothing more than additional hazards brought on by unprecedented congestion all filtered into two lanes – one north, one south.”
The board’s resolution is calling upon the DOT to reconsider its decision and is strongly urging the support of the state legislators representing Ocean County to petition the DOT to get a more complete project underway.