County Offers ByPass Model Changes
HARRISON TWP. County officials unveiled a computer simulation of their much-contested plan to reroute traffic around downtown Mullica Hill on Monday night, explaining that the construction of a bypass could reduce wait times at the intersection of routes 322 and 45 by more than two minutes.
Over the next 20 years, county officials expect the proposed bypass to reduce wait times by nearly five and a half minutes, cutting a projected 1.4 miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic down to 15 car lengths.
"You see a normal road with traffic flowing efficiently," said Stephen Sweeney, county freeholder director, as he looked at the computer simulation of traffic on U.S. Route 322 in the year 2027.
The county's projection for 2027 shows a colorful assortment of cars, trucks and commercial vehicles flowing smoothly through the intersection of U.S. Route 322 and N.J. Route 45. With the camera locked over a group of cars, viewers are taken on a bird's eye view of traffic movement down the proposed bypass until it terminates in the Richwood section of the township.
The computer model developed by Maurice Rached, of Maser Consulting, is based on projections of documented traffic counts along Route 322 in the months of July, August and September.
What the model illustrates, officials said, is the effectiveness of the proposed bypass at cutting down the excessive wait times at several intersections along with the bumper-to-bumper traffic that motorists and residents have become accustomed to.
The project was met with mixed reviews Monday night as about 150 people came out to Clearview High School auditorium to watch the presentation.
"I still don't believe it works," said Ernie Stewart, of Mill Race Farms.
Stewart said the bypass merely creates a choice for drivers. He believes that Route 322 would soon be faced with the same congestion issues as more drivers are drawn to the new roadway. "Eventually, we'll have the same problems," he said.
The proposed bypass around downtown Mullica Hill has been met with resistance from the start. Within a matter of weeks, township residents imagining a thundering four-lane highway within eyeshot of their back yards began to organize.
Curious homeowners filled the seats of the county library building to hear the finer points of the proposal during three sometimes rowdy meetings.
Feeling the push from residents, the township hired their own engineer to pour over the county's data and create a traffic model of their own, which was presented last week.
The county's traffic model on display Monday evening was met by a much smaller crowd. It addressed many of the alleged shortcomings of the township-financed Pennoni Group's traffic model, including the addition of two turning lanes at the intersection of Route 322 and Walters Road.
County engineers have moved the Walters Road section of the bypass 300 feet from nearby homes, redrafting the layout of a road that currently sits within 50 feet of homes.
Concerns regarding a cemetery near the beginning of the bypass route were addressed by the construction of a sunken roadway and walls serving as sound buffers. This construction tool keeps vehicles from the view of cemetery goers, explained county officials.
"We are doing everything we can to minimize the impact," Sweeney said of the cemetery.
The bypass route would also cancel the planned construction of 350 new homes in a township where a housing boom in effect since the 1990s has put additional cars on an already overused highway, explained Sweeney.
More houses are already coming to the crowded highway heading into Mullica Hill.
"Since we made our announcement in May, 350 homes have been approved on 322," said Sweeney.
The county hopes to begin drafting the layout of the project in the coming months, with the final alignment of the roadway set in stone by December.
"I think this is the only solution we have," said Sweeney. "If we don't fix it now we will have doomed Mullica Hill."
Some residents who attended the meeting agreed with Sweeney.
Jack McMackin said he was for the bypass and commended the county for having an open dialogue with area residents.
"I think it's needed," said McMackin, who lives on the border of Harrison and Mantua townships.
Mark Reidenauer saw the proposed plan as an opportunity to rejuvenate the downtown.
"The idea of being able to divert traffic from the downtown is great," said Reidenauer, who lives in Cider Press Estates. "This idea seems to be the only workable solution."
Staff writer Jonathan Vit contributed to this report.