STAFFORD – The frustration continues even months after residents first brought their concerns to the township regarding the safety of a local residential road.
Back in April 2019, Lighthouse Drive resident Rob Mihalenko urged the Stafford Township Council to do something about the careless driving that was putting children and other drivers in danger along his road.
Once Mihalenko voiced his concerns, numerous other residents of the road, many with children of their own, began to echo his sentiments: people drive too fast on Lighthouse, we can’t let our kids play outside, students at the bus stop are “sitting ducks,” etc.
It has been over seven months since officials were briefed on the issue and residents like Mihalenko claim to see no lasting change and are even more frustrated than before.
Addressing The Problem
“After I went to the town meeting and complained for everyone living on the road, they came and clamped down for almost a week and a half. They were pulling people over left and right for speeding. It was unbelievable,” Mihalenko told Jersey Shore Online.
This was the response residents were looking for. As he said back in April, Mihalenko wasn’t advocating for officials to change the speed limit, but rather to change the mindset of these careless drivers with heavier enforcement.
“The word was getting around town real fast to slow the hell down on our road. We saw caution from other motorists for the first time in a while since living here.
“Then they packed up the [speedometer] sign and left,” he added.
While many understand that police can’t dedicate all their resources to monitoring one road 24/7, the question remained: Were they monitoring it enough?
Following the week and a half span of stricter enforcement detail on Lighthouse Drive, Mihalenko noted that he ran into issues trying to get in contact with the police and express his existing concerns.
“Since then, they are rarely around to enforce the road. Just a few times I’ve seen them drive up the road and then on to other business I guess,” he said.
Residents like Mihalenko are not sure exactly where police stand on the whole issue, and many are now convinced that officials won’t attempt to do anything anyway.
“It’s every family for themselves out there. Drive it at your own risk,” Mihalenko added.
However, on the enforcement end, Capt. James Vaughn of the Stafford Police noted that the department is actually very aware of resident concerns. Since April, details on Lighthouse Drive have continued since the initial complaints, but he admits “they are more periodic now as compared to daily when the complaints began.”
As Lighthouse Drive is a major thoroughfare through Stafford’s largest residential area, connecting Barnegat and Stafford Townships, police are bound to conduct enforcement details on it and other nearby roads.
“Naturally, there is a lot of vehicular traffic including school busses as well as bicyclists, runners, walkers and kids at play. Everyone’s safety is certainly a priority to our department,” Vaughn told Jersey Shore Online.
Since April 2019, police have conducted 230 traffic stops in order to deter speeding; about 33 per month. This is compared to a total of 107 total stops between January and March 2019.
In this time, police also record four accidents on Lighthouse Drive, which is actually a bit below the average. Lighthouse averages about one accident per month.
As far as summonses and warnings go, Stafford Police have issued an average of 10 summonses per month and 25 warnings per month on Lighthouse Drive, said Vaughn.
For some time, as Mihalenko noted, police also posted two digital signboards at Lighthouse Drive and Vessel Lane for southbound traffic and Lighthouse Drive and Reef Avenue for northbound traffic in order to make the public more aware of the speed limit.
When you compare these figures to those pertaining to a road very similar to Lighthouse, you might not see too much of a difference in terms of police enforcement.
Another main artery through Ocean Acres is Nautilus Drive, also connecting Barnegat and Stafford Townships, in addition to housing the Southern Ocean Medical Center on the Route 72 end.
According to Vaughn, Nautilus had very similar statistics within that same time frame, seeing five accidents and an average of 8 summonses per month and 25 warnings per month.
While it is evident there is a disconnect between the Lighthouse community and local law enforcement, police maintain they are enforcing as needed along Lighthouse and roads of a similar stature.
But residents aren’t convinced. Are the enforcements enough to keep Lighthouse residents safe?
Dangers Of The Road
If you ask a Lighthouse Drive resident, the answer is no.
Residents continue to cite excessive speeding, cars illegally passing school buses, and accidents as major factors making the roadway a danger to families.
Nina Yepez Horner, another Lighthouse resident, told Jersey Shore Online that the road has become more and more dangerous since she moved here in 2013.
“I am directly across from Navy [Lane]. It’s a sharp turn that people fly by. We have had to replace our mailbox three times since moving here due to people flying into it coming over the hill,” said Yepez Horner.
While she has seen police patrolling the area a bit more often of late, Yepez Horner believes her curve of the road to be especially dangerous.
“I haven’t seen them sit by my section which is infamous for speeding drivers. We haven’t seen the speed limit signs near our area either,” she added.
Yepez Horner, like many other parents, refuses to let her child cross the road due to the excessive speeding on her end.
“We have a great police force in Stafford…I understand it is pretty difficult to regulate people who speed through but I wish something could be done around my particular area,” she said.
Lighthouse resident Jennifer Greene Karwatt said, “My kids have their bus stop at my house. As we sit and wait for the bus 90% of people driving by are on their phones looking down at it or not paying attention.”
Karwatt’s neighbor, Paige FitzGibbon, just avoids the problem all together by driving her middle schooler to school every day.
Mihalenko noted back in April that he too will not let his daughter play on the front lawn of his residence because of the cars that speed by or those that pass the stopped school busses.
Despite this being a common nuisance for residents, police have not received any complaints about school busses getting passed, “and we have not observed any violations,” said Vaughn.
“There have been no summonses or warnings issued for passing any school busses,” he added.
In addition to speeding, the commercial growth and changes to the north end of Lighthouse Drive also seem to be a newfound issue for those residing closer to the Barnegat side.
As the development of the Barnegat 67 residential and commercial plaza progresses, passersby are seeing major changes to the roadway in the area. For example, a turn has been added at the Garden State Parkway intersection that allows for entry into the Barnegat 67 parking lot for access to restaurants, Planet Fitness, and other stores.
According to resident Tracy Novaro Mastroly, that light at the Garden State Parkway southbound entrance is a problem.
“When you’re headed towards Bay Ave and want to make a left at that light, you can’t see if anyone is coming the other way because of the two left lanes which have a red arrow coming the other way,” explained Novaro Mastroly.
And she isn’t the only one who feels this way. Resident Samantha DeGange Doyle has seen firsthand how dangerous the turn into the plaza can be.
DeGange Doyle’s son was in an accident on May 13, 2019 right at that intersection.
“He was traveling from Barnegat to Manahawkin in the right lane and the other driver was traveling on Lighthouse towards Barnegat,” she said. While the other driver was attempting to make a turn into the parking lot towards Planet Fitness, he did not see her son’s vehicle coming towards him.
“The truck turning left drove right over the hood of my son’s car and flipped. It was a gray rainy day and my son had a gray car. The truck said he didn’t see him because it was blocked by the two oncoming left turn lanes,” said DeGange Doyle.
Thankfully both drivers made away with only bumps and bruises, but DeGange Doyle insists “It’s a treacherous intersection that warrants a left turn arrow in my opinion…The speed limit coming from Barnegat is 45 which is way too fast.”
It seems that both residents and law enforcement are at an impasse with regards to the state of affairs on Lighthouse Drive. Police maintain that they are doing everything in their power to ensure the safety of Stafford residents and the figures themselves do not verify any outrageous amount of incidents on that particular road.
However, resident accounts and perspectives continue to report otherwise.
According to Mayor Gregory Myhre, Stafford is well aware of the issue and even understands the difficulties from the police’s perspective.
“It is important to note that it is very difficult to calculate the speed of a vehicle through visual observation, even for a trained professional. Areas near curves and downhill driving can provide an optical illusion for vehicles that appear to be travelling above the speed limit, when they are in fact in compliance with the speed limit,” Myhre told Jersey Shore Online. “I assure you the Township’s Police Department continues to monitor this area for traffic violations and will continue to do so for the safety of motorists, pedestrians and all residents.”
As for the residents, Mihalenko puts it this way: “In all my 48 years of living I have never seen anything like this. The struggle with a town to enforce its resident’s safety when they ask for help. It’s mind blowing to us.”