By Dari Kotzker
South Jersey commuters along the interchange of I-295, Route 42 and I-76 are about to endure approximately eight years of roadwork, but the goal is to make it an easier drive in the long run. The lieutenant governor and state Department of Transportation commissioner ceremoniously broke ground today on the $900 million federally funded project called the Direct Connection.
“What can only be called a weird factoid in New Jersey is the existence of the interruption of Route 295. Today we are announcing nearly a billion dollar investment in ending that weird factoid,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. “It can only be described as an effort to make the roads safe, an effort to improve quality of life, an effort to bring businesses and keep businesses in New Jersey and I suspect that it will be successful.”
Haddon Heights resident Darren Couch said, “That’s a lot of money, but it might be worth it. The roads around, they definitely need it, they need the work.”
The Direct Connection project has four contracts and is scheduled to be completed in 2021. Traffic lanes will stay open the entire time. When finished, it will include 10 new bridges, 22 retaining walls and 15,000 feet of new and reconstructed noise barrier walls. One of the biggest changes will be a new 295 viaduct going over 42 and 76.
“I don’t know too many other places in the country where you get off an interstate to go on a local road to get back on an interstate. So that’s why, through all the analysis, this was really a no brainer,” New Jersey DOT Commissioner James Simpson said.
Approximately 250,000 people drive the interchange every day. The accident rate along the corridor is seven times the state average and when there’s an accident, drivers tend to get off the highway and clog up local roads. So most residents approve the plan.
“It needs to be done, it’s bad out there,” said Gloucester City resident Ed Amanski. “They all get off of the freeway and they come here and head south, so here on a Friday afternoon it may take you 15 minutes to go a mile with the traffic.”
Pre-construction activity on the first phase of this project will begin at the end of the month, but actual construction on the 295 viaduct won’t begin for another three years.
“The third contract will begin work in 2016, so we believe by 2018 you’ll have that northbound 295 direct connection. The southbound direct connection will be part of contract four, and you’ll see that construction going on in 2019,” said NJ DOT Assistant Commissioner of Capital Program Management Richard Hammer.
The commissioner says each construction phase will add new jobs, but he didn’t have the exact number. He also said although it’s federally funded, sequestration will not affect the project.