Council approves plan

for Rts. 18, 516, 527
Some residents question need for bridge replacement

Staff Writer

for Rts. 18, 516, 527

Some residents question need for bridge replacement


Staff Writer

Old Bridge officials will back the state on a plan to reconfigure the area where Routes 18, 516 and 527 meet, as long as no sound walls go up.

That no concrete noise walls are constructed along Route 18 or anywhere else nearby was one contingency on the minds of Township Council members Monday as they approved a conditional resolution to support the state Department of Transportation (DOT) in its effort to turn the crossroads into a full-service interchange.

With eight members present, the council voted 7-0-1 to support the DOT’s plan to improve the interchange where state highway Route 18 travels under an overpass carrying Middlesex County Route 516 to its seamless connection with Route 527, also a county road.

The conditional stamp of approval will permit the DOT to move forward with trying to secure state and federal funding for the proposed project, according to Township Engineer John Vincente.

The DOT has not set a definite starting date for the project, which remains in the early planning stages, Vincente noted.

"DOT’s immediate objective is to get the financing on-line, so they can move forward to find the funds," Vincente said. "They’re just in the concept stage."

If neither the DOT nor the Federal Highway Authority can secure adequate funding, the project could be scrapped, he noted.

Nonetheless, Councilman Edward Testino asked Vincente to attach the recorded comments of several residents living in the area whose neighborhoods will be affected by the proposed construction. Those residents voiced their concerns during a hearing on the resolution.

Preliminary plans show that an off-ramp would be constructed to allow motorists driving on northbound Route 18 to exit onto Route 516 — as cannot be done now.

Meanwhile, an on-ramp leading from Route 527, also known as Englishtown Road, will allow access to Route 18 southbound. Presently, motorists on Route 527 must use a residential side street, Leon Avenue, or several other parallel side streets to access Route 18 southbound.

After the proposed ramp opens, Leon Avenue would become a cul-de-sac at its west end, no longer intersecting with Route 527.

Three of the residential streets running parallel to Leon Avenue, namely James, George and Farless avenues, would also become cul-de-sacs or be cut off at their eastern ends before reaching Route 18.

The overpass carrying Route 516 over Route 18 would also be replaced with a new bridge in that spot, according to the state’s plans.

That component does not sit well with some Englishtown Road area residents living in the area who are questioning the need to replace the bridge. Those residents believe they will effectively be cut off from the rest of the township during construction.

However, the state must replace the bridge in order to fit with the other improvements and because of its 40-plus years of usage, Vincente said.

"The bridge is over 40 years old. It’s in need of rehabilitation," Vincente said.

With the addition of the off-ramp and on-ramp, the DOT is aiming to make it "a full-service interchange," Vincente said.

The bridge’s current design and geometric configurations would not accommodate the new traffic flow coming with the new ramps, and the structure cannot be retrofitted, he added.

"The bridge is reaching the end of its useful life," Vincente said.

Residents from Farless Avenue likewise expressed trepidation that dead-ending that street would limit emergency vehicles’ access to and from Route 18.

Having spoken with Township Fire Marshal Richard Diaz about the Farless Avenue residents’ concerns, Vincente promised to bring those issues to the state.

"Farless [Avenue] is one area where we’d like the DOT to re-evaluate emergency vehicle access," he said.

Meanwhile, residents living in neighborhoods on the east side of Route 18 — particularly between Marlboro Road, Marsand Drive and Charles Street — are concerned about the DOT’s plan to condemn parts of their properties to build the off-ramp between Route 18 and Route 516.

However, Vincente cited DOT studies that showed that many motorists now use residential streets such as Marsand Drive to get from Route 18 northbound to Route 516.

The present configuration requires motorists to travel Route 18 north into East Brunswick to make a jughandle onto Route 18 southbound before exiting onto Route 516 or 527. Motorists use the residential streets to avoid that circuitous route, often traveling at high rates of speed, Vincente noted.

"When the two ramps go in, [motorists] will not use the residential streets," Vincente said. "The project is geared toward addressing those quality-of-life issues."

Before the roll call Monday, Ward 6 Councilwoman Lucille Panos, whose constituents include most of the residents affected by the project, asked Vincente for assurance that the township’s approval of the DOT plan would be contingent on the state’s concurrence with certain conditions.

Specifically, the DOT’s plan to erect sound barriers along Route 18 and the off-ramp leading from that highway to Route 516 were unacceptable, Panos said.

"There’s a big scare out there," Panos said. "Could you guarantee there will be no walls? I want a guarantee."

"If the public doesn’t want walls, there will be no walls," Vincente replied.

Even by approving the resolution, the township will still be able to ask the DOT to modify or even scrap the proposed plans if they do not agree with them, Vincente stressed.

"If the council doesn’t like this project, they can go to the DOT," Vincente said. "This is not the final bite of the apple."

Council Vice President Patrick Gillespie, a state employee, abstained from the vote.