By Lauren Wanko
Nearly 10 years ago, Erik Myer’s 17-year-old son lost his life after he was struck on the Garden State Parkway by a car that ran a red light. There are only three traffic lights on the entire 172-mile highway and all three are in Cape May County. Since that tragic night, Myer and others have fought for the removal of those lights. Today it became a reality.
“I just want all the people who said I’ll sign your petition, but it ain’t gonna change nothing, here I am today, it did,” Myer said.
“It’s the entrance to New Jersey and you have to stop three times. It was ridiculous and then when we heard the story about the loss of life and safety it became almost a no-brainer,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Officials joined this morning for a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of a construction project meant to eliminate the three traffic lights on the Garden State Parkway at exits 9, 10 and 11. The traffic lights predate the Parkway.
“They were part of the local roads. Initially this wasn’t part of the Garden State Parkway and became part of the Parkway and the lights were something we inherited as part of the local road system,” said New Jersey Turnpike Authority Executive Director Ronnie Hakim.
“First thing we need to do is get rid of the lights for safety reasons. Secondly, congestion. We will alleviate a lot of congestion now particularly coming into the Cape May region or leaving the Cape May region,” said New Jersey Transportation Commissioner James Simpson. “We’re going to have have three beautiful flyovers, you’ll have uninterrupted flow of traffic, you’ll have exit lanes and access lanes that will not impede the cross streets so that’s really the way it should be now in the 21st century and we’re getting there.”
The construction work is expected to take about two years. Officials say during that time the Garden State Parkway will maintain full capacity. One of the first phases of the project involve building a diversionary road that will carry traffic while the overpasses are being constructed. The total price tag is $110 million.
“Fortunately Congressman [Frank] LoBiondo had secured a long time ago — over 10 years ago — $38 million. Thirty-eight million dollars doesn’t buy as much today as it did then. The balance — almost $80 million — will come out of the Turnpike Authority’s Capital Program,” Simpson said.
“This is the kind of partnership that really makes a difference. It’s a partnership between the federal government, the state of New Jersey, the state legislators who all came together understanding that we had to have one unique focus and for the people of Cape May County this is your victory,” LoBiondo said.
And it’s a victory for Erik Myer.
“Hopefully this will never happen to anybody else,” Myer said. “I want to be the last.”