STAFFORD – Rob Mihalenko doesn’t let his daughter play outside on the front lawn of their home anymore. Even though he wants to, he believes it to be too dangerous. And he isn’t the only one who feels this way.
Mihalenko lives on Lighthouse Drive in the Ocean Acres section of Stafford Township. Recently, he brought his concerns to the Stafford Township Council regarding the safety of his street for residents and their children.
“I am here on behalf of myself and my family, my daughter…to talk about the safety concerns regarding the road, the careless driving,” said Mihalenko to the council. “With the Garden State Parkway entrance at one end of Lighthouse and the recent development of homes and shopping centers, the through traffic has significantly increased.
“Motorists are not following the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour on the road, it’s a problem,” he explained.
Lighthouse Drive is one of the main thoroughfares through Ocean Acres, running somewhat parallel to the other main road Nautilus Drive. The road connects West Bay Ave. in Barnegat Township to Route 72 in Stafford Township.
“As a whole, considering safety, Lighthouse Drive is a traveled roadway as it is a main artery of Ocean Acres, and goes through into Barnegat Township,” stated Lieutenant James Vaughn of the Stafford Township Police Department.
Mihalenko cited the major problems on the road as speeding, vehicles passing over double yellow lines, and vehicles not stopping for school busses. With a daughter and approximately 50 other students on her school bus, he believes the speeding to be posing a serious risk to their safety.
“I’ve been here since 2006 and I’ve watched someone blow past my daughter’s school bus dozens of times,” he said. In that time, his mailbox has been taken out three times, one of which the car actually drove up onto his front lawn.
“My fellow neighbors throughout the road have witnessed the same thing…its unacceptable; the township must do something about it.”
Cindy Coughlin has lived on Lighthouse Drive, near Barnacle, since 2003. While she has never witnessed an accident, she can attest to the poor state of affairs on the road.
“I have seen cars going by our house doing easily 50, I have also witnessed cars passing my car because I was going too slow [doing the speed limit],” she told Jersey Shore Online.
Coughlin finds issue with the speeding also because it makes it dangerous for those residents who live on the road to back out of their driveways.
“The cars are going fast and if you don’t pull out fast enough they are right on top of you in no time. My bigger issue is the huge trucks and boats on trailers that are parked in the street and block the view of people pulling out,” she added.
Mihalenko isn’t advocating for lowering the speed limit on Lighthouse Drive, he is advocating to change the mindset of motorists who feel “they can do as they please” when there is no police presence.
He called the children waiting outside for the school bus on the road “sitting ducks” to the cars speeding by.
On March 18, 2019, Mihalenko witnessed a near-high speed collision when a speeding car attempted to blow past the school bus while his daughter stood just 15 feet away.
“We want our children to go out front without becoming victim to a careless driver,” he added.
Mihalenko’s daughter Mackenzie, a straight-A student at Stafford’s Intermediate School, read a statement that she prepared herself to the council on April 2.
She read: “Lighthouse Drive is a useful way to get from Barnegat to other towns, making it a lot more busy…people want to be safe and not have to worry about their children because of careless driving.”
Mihalenko was the first resident to implore change from the council. Since he brought the issues on Lighthouse Drive to their attention, some work has been done to assess the risk factors there.
Mayor Gregory Myhre wrote in an email to Jersey Shore Online: “I spoke to [Stafford] Chief Dellane regarding the situation and he said they would conduct a traffic study. I spoke with the resident on two more occasions and advised to him to e-mail the chief to create a record.”
Since then, Myhre noted that a few digital signboards were placed on Lighthouse to address concerns.
According to Lieutenant Vaughn, prior to Mihalenko’s appearance before the council, no direct complaints about the road were made known to police. An enforcement detail is currently being conducted on Lighthouse along with a traffic study, so no new information is available as of yet.
However, data over the last 15 months has shown 15 accidents, about one per month, on Lighthouse Drive, Vaughn said.
“Out of the 15 accidents, 3 involved minor injury, and 2 were non-reportable, which means it was so minor we didn’t need to take a report. The other 10 were reportable and handled by our officers,” Vaughn said. “We haven’t had any children injured or hurt and/or reports of vehicles passing school buses reported directly to our department by our local school districts or residents.”
According to Vaughn, this recent data doesn’t suggest a high volume of accidents occurring regularly on Lighthouse, but the department is working to address residents’ concerns with continuing enforcement details.
On the Barnegat end, Chief Keith Germain reported similar theories regarding the safety of the road.
“So far in 2019, we’ve had 174 motor vehicle accidents [in Barnegat Township]. Of those, 4 were on the Lighthouse corridor (and 2 of those were in the intersection with West Bay Ave),” said Germain.
During this same period in 2018, Barnegat’s end of Lighthouse only saw three accidents, so police are not majorly concerned.
Despite this, Stafford Police continue to work on establishing a greater police presence in the area, which Councilman George Williams confirmed at a more recent meeting on April 17.
Residents maintain that the road is unsafe and something more needs to be done. Should the possibility of lowering the speed limit arise, the project would then be moved up to the county level as Lighthouse is a county road.