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Better parkway-O.C. path possible through public hearing process

Better parkway-O.C. path possible through public hearing process

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The opening, finally, of the recreational path on the Garden State Parkway bridge between Somers Point and Upper Township has been a great relief for Jersey Shore bicyclists.

This has restored their historic mainland crossing of Great Egg Harbor Bay, allowing a bike ride to include Atlantic and Cape May counties without risking the island traffic hazards or going far inland. Especially in summer, the bridge path is far safer.

It’s also another lovely waterway crossing, cooler and scenic, and we’re grateful the New Jersey Turnpike Authority made it happen. The finished but unopened bike path on the new bridge had tantalized cyclists for more than a year.

Oddly, the authority finished the connections and opened the path last month without an announcement, perhaps because the ordinary level of government communication has been reduced by the pandemic.

Likewise, the authority’s proposal for a major restructuring of the parkway interchanges heavily used by Ocean City visitors and residents was barely a mention by the authority in its outlook for capital spending.

That would close Exit 30 which puts the traffic onto residential Laurel Drive and send it instead onto Route 9 by making neighboring Exit 29 a full interchange.

The proposal was immediately embraced by the long-suffering residents of the Laurel Drive neighborhood, and opposed by those living on County Route 559 (Mays Landing-Somers Point Road) where the Ocean City traffic would go. Businesses established on MacArthur Boulevard, fed by the Laurel Drive traffic, want to keep the vehicles going by their locations.

Reasoned opinions for and against the proposal came quickly. Some readers and officials offered other changes to consider as part of or instead of the authority plan. One would bar truck traffic on Laurel Drive to provide quick relief. Another would look to provide an additional parkway connection with Ocean Heights Avenue on the other side of Somers Point. Some wonder whether upgrading Laurel Avenue, zoning it commercial and offering buyouts to homeowners wouldn’t be less expensive than the authority plan.

A Turnpike Authority spokesman said “none of the projects on its long-term list has been scheduled or approved,” so its parkway proposal would happen years from now, if ever.

Some have speculated that the Turnpike Authority doesn’t intend to pursue the parkway interchange upgrade and just included it with a bunch of other possible plans to distract from its biggest ever toll hikes and suggest to drivers they might eventually benefit for paying much more now.

We hope that’s not the case, not because its plan necessarily looks like a winner, but because there’s clearly an opportunity and need for improvement. The major upgrades the past decade to highways and bridges serving Ocean City have worsened the Laurel Drive bottleneck.

A public hearing process would help identity the best approach and develop the consensual support for addressing this unfinished part of the parkway-Ocean City connection.

This is worth pursuing for the safety and convenience of residents and visitors, and is possible either through the Turnpike Authority’s plan, a modified version of it or something else altogether.

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