Road building promotes overdevelopment

Instead of improving problem intersections, public officials are promoting overdevelopment by building parallel roads in Bayville, Forked River, Waretown and elsewhere.

Parallel roads to bring more traffic to Route 9

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 06/20/06


Among the many methods for restraining the development that continues to diminish the quality of water, air, land and lives in Ocean County, perhaps the most underutilized is that of making intelligent modifications to our existing roads, especially Route 9.

Instead of focusing on improvements to intersections and trouble spots, an alliance of developers, politicians and bureaucrats is promoting yet more development by the creation of parallel roads that bring in yet more houses and stores. At the head of this pro-development cabal is the state Department of Transportation.

Where new roads penetrate undeveloped areas, development and overcrowding follow. All too often, the sensible alternative of improving the existing infrastructure goes ignored. And all too often, developers, pay-to-play engineering firms and the politicians they sponsor end up the winners while the people and the environment lose again.

Under the guise of “smart growth,” the DOT and local officials are implementing a program called the Integrated Land Use and Transportation Plan. Sound impressive? It’s not. It’s a fancy way of saying “Lots more development and the roads to go along with it.” And the Route 9 region is to be the guinea pig.

Prominent among many examples is the proposed extension of Western Boulevard in the Bayville section of Berkeley. Rather than focus on improving intersections along Route 9, elected officials propose to extend Western Boulevard through Bayville’s last significant undeveloped area, the New Jersey Pulverizing site, thereby opening it and the Pinewald section of Berkeley to road-clogging development. Only a few years ago, local officials designated this area for preservation.

Four million dollars in federal funding has been earmarked for building the Western Boulevard extension. This month, the Ocean County freeholders authorized $800,000 for environmental studies of the project. This funding would have been better spent directly on improving Route 9, which would alleviate traffic without promoting development.

The likely winner from these unnecessary public expenditures is builder/developer K. Hovnanian and the elected leadership of Berkeley, which has been angling for years to build a housing development in this location, immediately across Route 9 from Pine Beach. Prior to the federal monetary allocation, the expense of these studies, permitting and road construction would have fallen to the developer. Instead, they are now offered to him as a gift.

Another example of promoting development by advocating the building of parallel roads is the case of the old Jersey Central Railroad right-of-way in Lacey. Instead of doing the obvious, improving the intersection of Route 9 and Lacey Road, the DOT and the leadership of Lacey are promoting a paved road on the right-of-way, which in most areas runs parallel to Route 9 a mere 1,000 feet away. Again we see the pattern: The road goes in at taxpayer expense and the way is literally paved for more private development.

In this case, Lacey voters in November 2001 voted to have a county park bike and walking trail on that property, not a road. But the DOT and public officials, some of whom stand to gain financially if a road is built, continue to promote the parallel road agenda.

Waretown is also on its way to becoming a victim of road building in lieu of highway and intersection improvement. Instead of upgrading the intersection of Route 9 and Wells Mills Road (Route 532), public officials propose extending Volunteer Way through a large undeveloped area as a way of cutting the corner between these two highways, thereby giving a green light to more development.

The Waretown plan results in a public expenditure to open to private development one of the county’s most environmentally sensitive tracts, the area north of Wells Mills Road. Public use of the township’s swimming lake, endangered pine snakes, endangered tree frogs, endangered plant species and acres of woods would be jeopardized.

As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” In this case, the truth is that more roads lead to more development, not less traffic. In each of these instances, public officials promote new parallel roads as a “transportation plan” but conveniently leave out the obvious impacts of their plan on neighboring land and lives. Their legal mandate of promoting “integrated land use” and “improving of existing roadways before development of new ones” lies neglected.

In this great game, the public is seduced with the cynical rationale that more road building is the only way of reducing congestion on Route 9, the very road these officials have done so little to improve. Reconfiguring critical intersections would secure far more public good at far less public expense.

Helen Henderson is project manager for Save Barnegat Bay, Lavallette. William deCamp Jr. is its president.

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