Direct Connect Project, Realigning Routes 295/42/76, Gets Underway
Preparations for the first wave of construction, which begins at the end of March or beginning of April, are underway this week.
The nightmare of cars stacked from the Route 70 ramps down to Bellmawr could be over in less than a decade, with the official start of the Direct Connect project Monday.
Nearly 30 years in the making, the eight-year, $900 million federally funded project is designed to uncoil the knot of ramps and reshape the Route 295/76/42 interchange, reducing or eliminating the daily commuter clogs.
“At long last, South Jersey’s worst traffic nightmare is being addressed,” said state Sen. Donald Norcross, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, in a statement.
“The current interchange doesn’t make sense, creates terrible backups, and is dangerous. This project will completely change how these roads are traveled, creating a much more efficient commute no matter what time of day.”
The four-phase project, which will create an unimpeded run for Route 295 through the often-congested interchange, has been in planning and design for the last decade, but officially gets underway with pre-construction work this week, followed by the beginning of the first phase at the end of March or beginning of April.
“Today’s groundbreaking represents the final phase of a project that will help reduce crashes and improve traffic flow along the busiest stretch of highway in this southern New Jersey region,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in a statement.
“The new route will also benefit local residents who are regularly subjected to traffic congestion on their streets when crashes within the interchange prompt motorists to divert to local roads.”
Around 250,000 vehicles travel through the 295/42/76 interchange each weekday, according to state figures, forcing drivers to weave through merges and tackle ramps like the infamous Al-Jo Curve.
That will all be wiped out, as the Direct Connect plans call for Route 295 to fly over the current mess of concrete spaghetti on a viaduct—though construction on that piece of the project won’t even start until 2016, under the contract structure.
Though there may be some temporary headaches—New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) officials said there’ll be several evenings and weekends of ramp closures in the vicinity of Market Street and Route 130 in the initial phase—officials touted the long-term benefits of the project, which will leave all three highways open to traffic during construction.
“This project will be a monumental change for this highway interchange creating a substantial upgrade to the current configuration,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr.
“This project will have a significant impact on Camden County motorists and several municipalities.”
The first phase, a $160 million construction contract awarded to PKF Mark III of Newtown, PA, involves work on Route 295 south of Essex Avenue, south of the interchange, as well as work along Route 76 near Market Street in Gloucester City and along two Route 42 ramps.
Workers will also replace the Creek Road and Bell Road bridges, and temporarily widen several stretches of roadway in preparation for the other three phases.
Work under the first contract should be complete by midway through 2015, and will overlap some of the second contract, which involves more work on Route 295, north of Browning Road, and partial work on two ramps, before the main work on shifting Route 295 on to the viaduct starts in 2016.
The final phase, which finishes the 295 viaduct and related work, begins in 2019 and wraps up in 2021.
In all, 10 new bridges will be built, 22 retaining walls installed, more than 40 new sign structures erected and a total of more than 15,000 feet of new or reconstructed noise walls will be built as part of Direct Connect.
The added jobs and better traffic flow will have a multiplier effect on the local economy, Norcross said.
“This investment in our infrastructure will make our region more attractive to potential businesses and homeowners,” he said. “The construction alone will generate jobs and boost our economy over the next several years.”
A related project is already underway to install message signs to alert motorists of roadway incidents or congestion, travel-time readers and adaptive traffic signal control systems along portions of Routes 168 and 130, which NJDOT officials said will help in controlling traffic through the area.