CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — An accident in the spring here may have been the most dramatic — with a car overturning and ending up in a ditch along Golf Club Road just off the Garden State Parkway — but crashes have become commonplace at the end of Exit 9 from the northbound lanes.
“It’s just been nonstop,” said Brian Vergantino, who moved into his house near the corner of Bayberry Road and East 1st Avenue in 2017.
He and another neighbor helped pull the driver from the overturned car. On Wednesday, he pointed out where the car took out a section of chain-link fence next to an embankment. More recently, another car rolled onto his front lawn after exiting the parkway. The ruts are still visible in his lawn, as are the marks on his concrete driveway where the car skidded to a stop.
“If my truck had been parked there, it would have been totaled,” Vergantino said.
The accidents take place night and day, he said, as cars come off the parkway at 70 mph or more only to reach a sharp turn to the right and a stop sign at the end of the ramp.
“If you watch, none of the cars come off the exit at the same angle,” said Vergantino. Cars often slam into the low steel guardrail along the exit, he said, with one recently taking out a long section of the guardrail.
Exit 9 is marked as Shell Bay Avenue, both for the northbound and southbound lanes. At the end of the northbound exit ramp, there are two stop signs with lights. The quiet, residential dead end of 1st Avenue is straight ahead, while the cross street turns from Bayberry Road to Golf Club Road at the intersection.
The house closest to the exit is protected by a section of steel guardrail, but that railing has been bent and buckled from yet another collision.
A resident of the house, who declined to give his name, said it would not be enough to stop the next car, which could hit his vehicle, the healthy cedar tree on the corner, or even slam into the house.
A section of the guard rail did hit the house in the last collision, striking near the front door.
Township officials want to see safety improved at the site, including asking the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to redesign the exit.
On Oct. 2, Middle Township officials met with SJTA representatives, engineers and state Assemblyman Erik Simonsen at the site in what they described as a roadside summit. A statement from the township indicated issues with the ramp have plagued neighbors for months.
Middle Township Mayor Tim Donohue described repairing the guardrail as the most pressing issue.
“The guide rail is the only thing keeping wayward vehicles from striking (homes) and the guide rail is severely damaged and no longer securely anchored in the shoulder,” he wrote in February, as quoted in a statement released by the township.
Middle Township police Chief Christopher Leusner also attended the meeting, as did Robert Flynn, the superintendent of public works.
According to township officials, the rail will be replaced within the next few weeks. Additional action promised includes upgrading the lighting on the exit ramp, repair of the existing lights that were damaged in previous accidents, the addition of rumble strips and the removal of signs described as confusing at the end of the ramp.
Changes have already been made, Vergantino said on Wednesday. The overgrown weeds that had blocked drivers’ visibility along the ramp have been cut back.
But his neighbor was not sure the planned changes would be enough.
“It’s not going to be fixed until they get rid of the exit entirely,” he said.
Vergantino suggested it could be redesigned instead of closed, so there would not be a sharp turn at the end of the ramp. He said there is enough room to continue the exit ramp all the way to Shell Bay Avenue, about 450 feet away.
According to township officials, staff from the NJTA were set to review the site earlier in the year, but the onset of COVID-19 disrupted that plan.
“By the time the Exit 9 off-ramp issue was revisited over the summer, the guide rails had been struck and damaged again, underscoring the need for additional safety measures,” reads the township statement.