How an Ocean County official plans to shame NJ over Rt. 166 project
TOMS RIVER — If work that began in March 2016 at the intersection of routes 37 and 166 is not completed this year, Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari plans to make sure every commuter knows who's at fault — the state of New Jersey.
Vicari has sent a letter to the Governor's Office, urging that an effort be made to expedite the project. He wants to see "some visible relief for motorists and businesses" by the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
"Enough is enough," the letter reads. "This project impedes the flow of traffic through one of the busiest areas of Toms River and we cannot wait until 2019 to see this work completed."
If he sees no results, Vicari told us, the freeholders will erect a "courtesy sign" reminding residents and visitors that the state is responsible for the behind-schedule project. The sign would also include a phone number that residents can call to demand action.
The project — part of an $11.8 million state-funded endeavor to widen a stretch of Route 166 — includes improving drainage and sidewalks; relocating utilities, such as gas lines; and traffic signal upgrades.
The work hit a major snag between July and October 2016 when then-Gov. Chris Christie ordered a shutdown of the state's Transportation Trust Fund. As a result, New Jersey Natural Gas moved on to other work and eventually restarted work at the site in summer 2017.
"This caused a change to the overall project schedule, because the gas work needed to be completed prior to water utility relocation and beginning other roadwork," said Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Schapiro.
But utility relocation is nearly complete, and widening of the southbound side of Route 166 is expected to wrap up in late spring, he said. Work will then begin on the northbound side. In addition, a section of Route 37 eastbound will be resurfaced this spring.
"The entire project is expected to be completed at the end of this year, approximately six months later than originally expected," Schapiro said.
When all is said and done, Route 166 will feature two lanes in each direction, rather than one, through the project area.
Schapiro noted the project was designed so the normal complement of travel lanes could be maintained throughout construction. Freeholder Vicari said the project remains a hazard to motorists and obscures access to area businesses.
"All we hear is delays, delays, delays, excuses," Vicari said. "I very rarely see people working there."
Vicari hopes the situation doesn't warrant the need for a "courtesy sign." But if it gets to that point, Vicari said, the county may ask a retailer for use of their property, or put the sign on a county flatbed truck in a parking lot.