More money being doled out for Route 520 study

By elaine van develde
Staff Writer

By elaine van develde
Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN — Controversy has opened the door for further study of pending improvements to Route 520.

According to Monmouth County Engineer Ted Giannechini, he had not anticipated the extensive public involvement that has ensued since a study conducted by Orth-Rodgers and Associates regarding improvement options was released on June 18.

Objections against the plan warranted further study, said Giannechini. The additional study will cost the county more money, but that’s what the public seemed to want, he said.

The original study, launched a year ago, cost $97,974.

The study’s base suggestion, said Giannechini, was to sanction a "road widening project, per se, but to add an additional lane in the eastbound section of the county road at Phalanx Road (near Brookdale Community College) and add approach lanes on Swimming River and Middletown Lincroft roads. People have viewed it as a road widening project and that’s what, I think, is bringing the skepticism, but the suggestions for widening are pretty much limited to the immediate area of intersections."

Because residents in both Middletown and Tinton Falls took that view, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution at its Sept. 12 meeting sanctioning $66,300 for another study on the subject.

Giannechini said the county had received about 20 written comments on the Orth-Rodgers study and a great many more oral comments during the first public hearing held at Brookdale Community College in June. Middletown Township has since publicly denounced any road widening and called for alternate suggestions.

"In the short range, the Township Committee has taken the position that we strenuously object to any road widening," said Mayor Patrick Parkinson. "It’s my feeling that the county needs to do a license plate study to determine where people are coming from and going to when traveling Route 520. Then, based on that information, a plan needs to be formulated to alleviate the traffic situation with redirection."

Parkinson said that the way the road is currently designed, it’s a straight run from Exit 109 on the Garden State Parkway through the Lincroft section of the township, and the design of the road as it is lends itself to highway driving patterns. Widening in any of the spots along the way, he said, would only make a tenuous traffic situation worse because a super highway appearance would result.

Parkinson suggested that a workable solution would be to divert traffic around the problem area, which tends to be the center of Lincroft at Swimming River and Phalanx roads.

"We’re not going to allow Newman Springs Road to become Route 35," said Parkinson. "We need changes now to slow down traffic rather than widening and making way for drivers to be more inclined to speed up."

Saying the county is taking heed of all concerns and calling comments on the plan well thought out, Giannechini noted that some of the more extreme objections were "taken a bit out of context."

Residents belonging to the Lincroft Village Green Association have thought all along that their staunch objections were completely contextual.

They objected to road widening before the plan was even publicly aired in June. Their feelings are the same as Mayor Parkinson’s in that they have thought, from its inception, the plan would be conducive to a super highway appearance and speeding.

According to Giannechini, the association’s other comments were that the aesthetics didn’t coincide with the image of Lincroft.

Some association members have asked that alternatives be considered such as funneling some traffic through neighboring Tinton Falls.

Pinning blame for needed road improvements on Tinton Falls because of increased development in that town, association members have said that traffic generated by Tinton Falls shouldn’t go through Lincroft.

Their idea (one of three options) is to create a new exit to Tinton Falls from the Garden State Parkway near Tinton Avenue in the borough, and build an overpass connecting Riverdale avenues east and west, which were separated by the Parkway years ago.

The overpass would form a T, routing traffic through those roads to Laurino Farms on Hance and Sycamore avenues and on to Route 35.

Both Riverdale avenues abut the recently developed 150-acre Willowbrook Farms where 110 luxury, single-family homes are being built.

Neighbors of the farm are against the development, much less a rerouting of Route 520 traffic. While officials and residents from both towns concede that traffic is bad around Swimming River Road, neither want the traffic any change would bring.

Tinton Falls Mayor Ann McNamara has said the country roads the association suggested for rerouting would not be able to handle the added traffic.

While McNamara said she could support the conservative parts of the Orth-Rodgers plan, she made it clear that neither she nor borough officials would condone another route to and from the Parkway via Riverdale Avenue East and Riverdale Avenue West, less than a mile from existing Exit 109. The area, she said is has been plagued with the same traffic problems as Lincroft and McNamara said she won’t accept blame but rather a regional solution.

"This is a regional problem," Parkinson said in agreement. "Why not suggest a more definitive study to determine the source of the traffic problem before blame is cast?"

Which is how the county is proceeding.

"We’re taking a good look at what can be done to meet concerns raised by public comment," said Giannechini.

While some of those comments did come from Tinton Falls, most came from Lincroft residents. "Some ideas were interesting as a general overview. Many are worth closer examination to be incorporated into a more mutually agreed upon solution," Giannechini said.