Tensions between local and state officials have risen over the last month as residents and business owners have grown tired of traffic delays, detours and the slow pace of construction at the intersection of routes 37 and 166 in Toms River.
The mounting dispute came to a head in recent weeks when two local officials told Shorebeat that representatives from the state Department of Transportation threatened to move equipment to another project in Monmouth County if they continued to complain about the slow pace of the work in Toms River. DOT officials did not comment on that alleged incident, but a spokesperson told Shorebeat that the project to add lanes and improve traffic flow would be completed in “several weeks,” though the final paving of the roadway would not come until spring.
“Construction on the Route 166/Route 37 infrastructure improvement project in Toms River is expected to be completed in the next several weeks, at which time Route 166 will be returned to its final configuration adding a lane in each direction to ease congestion on the roadway,” said DOT spokeswoman Mairin Bellack.
As the project currently stands, the state’s contractor is working on drainage improvements by removing the pavement to allow roughly 400 feet of 30-inch concrete pipe to be installed between Route 37 and Old Freehold Road, Bellack said. Once the pipe is in place, the contractor will complete the excavation in the area to prepare for the installation of concrete median barrier curb.
“This work will be completed in the next few weeks,” said Bellack. “In the spring when the weather is warmer final paving is scheduled to take place over several nights.”
At a meeting of the Toms River Township council Tuesday night, officials expressed anger over the pace of the project, which has been dragging on since March 2016.
“We were assured that we would have this done before Christmas,” Council President Brian Kubiel said.
Councilman Dan Rodrick said the owner of Schuster’s Toms River Car Wash told him that the construction project has been costing him $20,000 per month in revenue, and the Shop-Rite supermarket has seen their business decline by 20 percent since the traffic nightmare hit what is arguably the most major intersection in town.
“It took over three weeks for the DOT to approve a traffic detour,” said Township Engineer Robert Chankalian. “It’s very troublesome. I attend these meetings, but the decisions aren’t made at the meetings. They’re sent to Trenton and then we have to wait.”
Adding insult to injury, Kubiel and Chankalian said DOT officials did not show up to a planned meeting last week on separate improvements to the intersection of Route 37 and Hooper Avenue.
The $11.7 million project is aimed at improving traffic flow by installing a raised median barrier between opposing traffic, improving the roadway geometry, making improvements to traffic lights between Highland Parkway and Old Freehold Road, and widening the roadway by constructing a new through lane on Route 166’s northbound and southbound corridors toward the intersection.