‘Life-Changing’ Improvement Comes to Rt. 537 & 34 Intersection

October 20, 2017
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Representatives from Colts Neck, Monmouth County, and the state and federal governments gathered at the intersection of Routes 537 and 34 Friday, Oct. 13 to break ground on a long-awaited $17.5 million roadway reconstruction project.

COLTS NECK – It’s taken nearly two decades of pushing for federal dollars and working with state entities, but construction to widen and reconstruct Monmouth County’s busiest, most trafficked intersection will soon start.

Over 37,000 cars travel through the CR-537 and Route 34 intersection every day in the heart of Colts Neck. The large-scale project starting on Oct. 23 will continue until its anticipated completion date of December 2019.

“This makes a tremendous improvement in Monmouth County,” state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11), said at an Oct. 13 groundbreaking ceremony. “Much of our traffic that goes east and west on a daily basis, as part of their lives, uses this roadway. And we have to fix it.”

Beck even described it as a “life-changing project.”

Traffic backs up along CR-537 West on Friday morning as cars wait in line. New improvements would ease flow from CR-537 and Route 34.

Monmouth County officials secured a $21.3 million agreement with the Federal Highway Administration in June to cover repair costs for the perpetually congested intersection.

In August, the Monmouth County Freeholders authorized a $17.5 million contract bid by Rencor, Inc. of Somerville for the work. Monmouth County is expected to spend $172,000 for staffing police officers and traffic maintenance during the work. The Transportation Trust Fund is expected to wholly cover that cost, according to county officials.

Monmouth County Engineer Joe Ettore said when construction begins on Oct. 23, work hours will span from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during weekdays, depending on activity. Some days those hours could be extended.

“Traffic will be maintained at all times,” Ettore said. “There may be delays and lane closures, but they’re going to be sporadic depending on the work requirement.”

Weekend construction is not planned now, and the construction company would need permits from Colts Neck and Monmouth County for that. Ettore said both governing bodies would consider allowing weekend work.

The project will be completed in a number of phases, and Ettore said the first one will be a widening of CR-537 at the southwest corner of the intersection.

During the project design the county ran into environmental and acquisition roadblocks. Ettore said strips of five to 10 feet of property along the project limits were acquired to allow for the roadway widening. Mine Brook, a tributary of the Swimming River Reservoir that travels underneath CR-537, was carefully studied by the state.

“This is one of the largest projects that a county government undertakes,” Ettore said. “It’s unusual that the county would take the lead on a project that includes an intersection of a county road and a state road.”

Surrounded by local, state and federal elected officials, Monmouth County Freeholder Director and former Colts Neck Mayor Lillian Burry said the road reconstruction is a long time coming, and a championing moment of her political career.

“I’m absolutely elated,” Burry said, “and I can assure you there are a lot of other people that share my elation.”

“This is an important project not only from the standpoint of easing traffic, but perhaps even more importantly, from a safety point-of-view,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-04).

The engineering plan for the redesigned intersection.

The intersection serves as the main artery for travel into the township’s business district, added Sue Fitzpatrick, president of the Colts Neck Business Association.

A number of businesses operate within one square mile of the project scope. North of the intersection is an Investor’s Bank and Brock Farms gardening center. On the eastern and western ends are two restaurants: the newly built Huddy’s Inn and the Colts Neck Inn Steak and Chop House, respectively. Just south is the Orchards at Colts Neck shopping center and slightly farther down the road is the seasonal go-to, Delicious Orchards.

Fitzpatrick said businesses have been receptive to the roadwork, but want the open, rural feel of Colts Neck to remain.

“We don’t want a super highway in what’s a rural district here,” she said. “We work hard to keep it that way.”

According to the County, the following is a breakdown of the intersection improvements.

  • Widening of Route 34 to accommodate six lanes along each intersection approach, including an exclusive left turn lane, two through lanes, an exclusive right turn lane, and two receiving lanes.
  • Widening of CR-537 to accommodate five lanes along each intersection approach, including an exclusive left turn lane, a through lane, a through/right turn lane, and two receiving lanes.
  • Replacement of the existing traffic signal, including pedestrian improvements.
  • Replacing the CR-537 bridge located approximately 120 feet west of the intersection.
  • Replacing the Route 34 bridge located approximately 400 feet north of the intersection.
  • Adherence to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Stormwater Management Rules. A bio-retention basin is proposed for the northeast and southeast quadrants.

This article was first published in the Oct. 19-26, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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