For the second time since August, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority held a public event at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to discuss two of the Garden State Parkway interchange projects in Galloway Township, and for the second time in six months, those with questions left the meeting frustrated.
The Turnpike Authority hosted a public information session followed by a public hearing at the Campus Center Theater on Tuesday night, Dec. 4. Officials gave a power point presentation on the project before taking comments from local officials and residents.
All comments were recorded, with responses to this and other questions to be issued in a report at a later date. No responses were given to comments and questions asked Tuesday night, and no questions concerning interchange 40 by Route 30 were answered.
Councilman Brian Tyrell spoke about a meeting local officials had with Turnpike Authority representatives in which a widening project for the overpass on Route 30 near the Ram's Head Inn was discussed.
“I hope that when that widening takes place, it’s done with the idea in mind that a full interchange is a possibility,” Tyrrell said during the public comment portion.
Project Engineer/Senior Highway Engineer Donald Chappa responded by saying Interchange 40 was not going to be discussed, and that a meeting would be held at a later date to discuss that project.
“The manner in which they held the public portion didn’t provide for dialogue,” Tyrrell said following the hearing.
“I’m disappointed in the format,” Councilman Jim McElwee said following the hearing. “I came here expecting the public to have their questions answered. There was no dialogue between the Turnpike Authority and the residents. They had an adversarial tone, and it would benefit them to reach out to the public and listen to their concerns rather than dictate to them what they’re going to do with their projects. Forty does affect the other two projects.”
McElwee’s comments about an adversarial tone echoed those of Galloway Democratic Chair Michael Suleiman.
“In two meetings, there’s been an adversarial tone,” Suleiman told the Turnpike Authority. “Councilmen Jim Gorman and Brian Tyrrell had their comments shot down. The conduct is not becoming of the fine people at the Turnpike Authority.”
Gorman asked about how residents would be impacted by sound levels relating to the interchanges, and Turnpike Authority officials reiterated that all responses would come in a later report.
“I wish in the future, you would come down and speak to officials early in the process, and not just talk to us about it in the past tense,” Gorman said. “That would make things move along a lot nicer.”
He also commented that he wished Interchange 40 was part of the discussion. Resident Michael Greb called the lack of inclusion of Interchange 40 “irresponsible.”
“The traffic needs to be taken into account,” Greb said during the public comment portion.
He added that Route 30 in the area of exit 40 has the same movements as Pomona Road in the area of exit 44.
“Forty is the obvious one,” resident Richard Goldberg said. “Route 30 goes east to Atlantic City and west to the rest of the county.”
Earl Jensen and Remy Jensen, owners of the Country Motel on Route 30, questioned the economic impact on businesses along Route 30 if there were to be an Interchange at exit 40.
The Turnpike Authority will be conducting a feasibility study concerning Interchange 40 next summer, after construction on the 41 and 44 interchanges has already begun. Officials have said the cost for the 40 interchange may be far greater than 41 and 44, and that they are not equivalent projects.
Suleiman asked the Turnpike Authority to delay construction on Interchange 41 until the feasibility study is complete.
He believes the Turnpike Authority is “fixing a problem that doesn’t exist,” and that shutting down the access road to non-emergency vehicles could be a mistake.
“The quickest way to get to AtlantiCare is down Jimmie Leeds Road,” Suleiman said. “If the access road is closed, people might not know another way to get to the hospital. You’re adversely affecting residents from a public safety aspect.”
Turnpike Authority officials also stated that a monetary donation would be made the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to compensate for 8.72 acres of trees that will be taken down as part of the interchanges projects.
“If you’re going to donate to DEP, you should include that project (two years ago),” McElwee said.
“The Galloway code is much stricter than the state code when it comes to cutting down trees,” Greb said. “It would be a nice gesture to voluntarily hold yourselves to the township standard.”
In August, the Turnpike Authority held an information session at Stockton College that left residents with questions and concerns dissatisfied.
Tuesday’s public hearing saw very few residents turn out, with the crowd mostly packed with public officials, including Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola, Gorman, McElwee, Tyrrell and Whitney Ullman from Galloway Councl; Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf; Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis; and Atlantic County Freeholder Rich Dase.
It’s the last hearing the Turnpike Authority will hold on the subject.
The record remains open for 60 days. Any additional comments and questions can be sent to the Turnpike Authority at the following address:
New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Engineering Department
P.O. Box 5042
Woodbridge, NJ 07095-5042
Attn: Donald Chappa, P.E., Project Engineer/Senior Highway Engineer
All comments will be included in the Final Hearing Report, which will be issued to Galloway Township and Atlantic County after Feb. 4, 2013, according to the Turnpike Authority.
Coppola and Dase both felt they were good projects that would benefit the area, and that the concerns of the residents would be taken into account.
“I hope you take into consideration what you hear and adapt design plans to accommodate that,” Coppola said. “I hope this is not just a rubber stamp meeting.”
“The residents are busy, but they care, and I hope this was not a waste of their time,” Atlantic County Freeholder Rich Dase said.