SOMERS POINT — Homeowners along Laurel Drive have long asked for relief from bumper-to-bumper summer traffic, trucks and speeders along the 25 mph, two-lane street.
Barely a mile long, the mostly residential road handles all southbound traffic for Exit 30 of the Garden State Parkway, which means virtually all tourists from New York, North Jersey and Philadelphia travel it on their way to and from the heart of Ocean City.
Laurel Drive ends at Route 9, and the continuation becomes the partly four-lane MacArthur Boulevard, which was expanded to help move traffic faster just a few years ago, and leads directly to the Route 52 causeway to Ocean City.
Now, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which owns and operates the parkway, has a plan to close Exit 30 to both relieve Laurel Drive of its traffic burden and eliminate dangerous backups on the parkway as people wait in line to exit there.
“We would welcome it,” said Laurel Drive resident Michelle Carideo, who said a few years ago her daughter was hit by an ambulance as she tried to cross the street to get to the Jordan Road School. Her daughter was not seriously hurt, Carideo said.
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Just a month ago, one of their cars was hit when a driver lost control and ended up in the Carideos’ yard. That was the third such accident that has damaged their vehicles in the 23 years they have lived there, Carideo said. They have seen one of their dogs hit and killed, and countless fender benders.
The state’s plan is to route all traffic to and from Ocean City to the 45 mph, two-lane Somers Point-Mays Landing Road from a full interchange at Exit 29, which now only provides for a northbound exit and southbound entry.
But the plan just moves the problem to another neighborhood, says a large group of Somers Point officials and business owners. And it deprives MacArthur Boulevard businesses of the traffic they need to survive.
“It’s a horrible idea for one simple reason: You are not solving a problem, you are moving it in front of someone else,” said Dennis DiOrio, owner of DiOrio’s Circle Cafe on MacArthur Boulevard. “They should leave it the way it is now in my opinion, but then I have something in it for me, too.”
That’s because his restaurant is located on the route that would suddenly be a lot less used if the state plan goes through. He and other owners along MacArthur Boulevard have invested in their businesses because of the traffic that flows by, DiOrio said.
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Kelli O’Connor lives in the Hickory Point development, right near Interchange 29. It’s a development of about 30 mostly new, large and expensive homes. She had not heard about the proposed plan but wasn’t looking forward to having the exit she can see from her front yard become a full interchange.
“It sounds like a lot of congestion,” O’Connor said, adding she will seek out more information.
The Turnpike Authority does not have a timetable for the project, a spokesman said Monday. It is part of a $24 billion, long-term capital improvement plan for using the revenue from the 27% toll increases on the parkway it approved in May.
“None of the projects on the long-term list has been scheduled or approved,” said authority spokesman Tom Feeney. “From that long-term list, the authority will adopt a rolling five-year capital program. The first of the rolling five-year programs is likely to be presented to the board for approval this fall.”
Every year, an updated five-year program is presented to the board for approval, Feeney said.
No traffic studies have been done related to the Exit 29 project, and won’t be until it makes it onto a five-year plan list, he said.
DiOrio said he and others have fought similar proposals from the parkway twice in the past 20 years, and twice the state agreed it would be best not to add to traffic at Exit 29.
So it was surprising to see the idea crop up again, he said.
Greg Sykora, of the Somers Point Business Association and owner of ERCO Ceiling, Blinds & Floors on Chestnut Street, said this is the first time the state has proposed closing Exit 30 completely.
“If you feel the need to do something, make a truck entrance or exit only (elsewhere),” Sykora said. “It’s the trucks which are the nuisance to the people on Laurel Drive.”
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Everyone who lives on Laurel Drive now moved there knowing it was a route to and from the parkway, he said.
Somers Point City Council recently voted to oppose the plan to close Exit 30, and Ocean City Council may take a similar stance, Ocean City spokesman Doug Bergen said.
“The new Route 52 causeway and bridges — along with the four-lane approach on MacArthur Boulevard in Somers Point — have worked exceptionally well in moving traffic to and from Ocean City,” Bergen said in an email. “I know Mayor (Jay) Gillian supports Mayor Glasser in wanting to preserve Exit 30.”
Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser said there are many problems with the new route, including adding unacceptable levels of traffic to already busy Route 9 and Somers Point-Mays Landing Road.
“I know we have problems on Laurel Drive, and we have asked the state to set weight limits (on vehicles that can use it), and to provide grants to redo the street,” Glasser said as he stood at the corner of Route 9 and Somers Point-Mays Landing Road, a small intersection that would have to handle more parkway traffic if the plan becomes reality. “But the problems on Laurel Drive don’t compare to the problems that will happen if they shift everything over here.”
Somers Point-Mays Landing Road is already backed up in summer, he said, since it handles a lot of Route 40 traffic on the way to the shore from Delaware and parts of southeastern Pennsylvania.
In addition, directing all traffic to Exit 29 would require vehicles leaving Ocean City to make two left turns — one onto Somers Point-Mays Landing Road and another onto Route 9 to the exit.
Left turns slow traffic down considerably, he said, and will likely back it up for miles.