The Route 37-166 road project is done…why did it take so long?
It's finally here, the day residents and business owners been waiting for at the Jersey Shore, the completion of the Route 37-166 road safety project.
As you begin your work week you can be more at ease knowing that road crews will be gone and traffic will be normal for a summer in Ocean County.
New Jersey Department of Transportation Spokesman Steve Schapiro knows the project took longer than anyone wanted but he hopes everyone will see the benefits of the improved intersection.
"This project was a safety improvement project that was also designed to ease congestion," Schapiro said. "One of the major things that we did is increase the lanes on Route 166 by adding a second lane in each direction which will help traffic flow and ease congestion."
Schapiro said they also made improvements to the ramps at the intersection of Route 37 and 166 as well as drainage work and repaired the roadway.
There were of course delays between March of 2016 and May of 2019 and the biggest one of all was the TTF Government Shutdown under then Governor Chris Christie which set in motion a chain of delays.
The shutdown lasted four months which was long enough for the gas utility company tasked with completing work at the intersection during that time left to work on other projects.
"Unfortunately it wasn't until a year later that they (the utility company) came back so we lost time because the gas utility work has to take place before we can do the roadwork with the gas mains and lines underneath the roadway," Schapiro said.
There was also water main work being done while that was going on, Schapiro said, and they had to wait for that utility company to finish their portion of the project before plans could move ahead.
Schapiro said the DOT understands everyone's frustrations with the project taking so long to complete and hopes drivers and pedestrians will find solace with the improvements made at the intersection.
"As with any project there's going to be an impact but people should focus on the benefit that this project is bringing to that intersection," Schapiro said. "It did take longer than had been anticipated, mainly because of the delay caused by the TTF Shutdown and the gas company having to go on to other work, but once we got back to work those crews did their job as best as they could."
The project brought on a range of emotions among residents, business owners and local government leaders.
Tensions have still not thawed and Ryan Blumenthal, the owner of Corinne Jeweler's on Route 166, can attest to that as someone who heard it from residents walking in through his doors.
"It was the first thing out of everybody's mouth was...what a disaster...this construction project was just that common point of pain for every resident in Toms River," Blumenthal said.
His biggest concern was not with the project itself per say but with the length of it which he feels had some man made delays.
"We'd look out of our window and for weeks at a time, nobody would be working. All the trucks are here and cones are here...the town is displaced, the businesses are messed up from it, but nobody is working," Blumenthal said.
His next door neighbor on Route 166 is Larry Schuster who owns the car wash in his name and says he took a sizable financial hit during the project because nobody wanted to drive in that direction.
"We all took a financial hit," Schuster said. "Everybody's been driving around and they've been bypassing us and going up onto the parkway and staying away from the area."
Further down the road on Route 166 is Shut Up and Eat! where owner Ann Gauthier is relieved and thankful that the project is over but admits to a financial hit she says can't be undone.
"If you came in for breakfast today and you had two eggs and we we're closed, you're not going to come back tomorrow and have four eggs," Gauthier said. "I will never regroup the money that was lost due to the roadwork."
Even though the crews are out there is still some minor work to be done including some landscaping but the DOT says it will have minimal impact on traffic.