TOMS RIVER – As it gets colder, the likelihood of the construction on Routes 166 and 37 being completed any time soon is getting slimmer, and local officials are getting more and more frustrated.
Not only are local businesses feeling the loss of income, but prospective businesses are also being turned away by the construction.
The county has not received any timeline on the completion of the project, Freeholder Joseph Vicari said. Since winter cold makes it more difficult to work with asphalt, he said he doesn’t expect resolution any time soon.
He said he doesn’t know why a road project would drag on the way it has. “I’m at a loss for words,” he said. He blames government bureaucracy.
Vicari said he was told by a project manager that if he keeps complaining about the status, that they’ll pack up workers and move to a part of the project in Monmouth County. He doesn’t know if the manager was an employee of the DOT or a contractor. Either way, it didn’t stop him from talking about it.
“You’re not going to intimidate a freeholder,” he said.
A representative from the governor’s office directed questions to the Department of Transportation, which did not respond to multiple requests for explanation.
Vicari said he is trying to get franchises to come here, but they look at the intersection and move on. He said Cheesecake Factory and Cracker Barrel both took a pass.
The local businesses are beyond frustrated. The Downtown Toms River business improvement district and the Chamber of Commerce have been advocating for these businesses, but they are losing money every month that people avoid that intersection.
As the sign in front of Corinne Jewelers says: “Longest construction project ever…12,000,000 for this?”
“Nearly 25,000 motorists use that intersection each day and to make matters worse, shoppers are avoiding the area,” Toms River Councilman Daniel Rodrick said in an email to The Toms River Times. “These businesses depend on the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas for a large percentage of their annual sales and they employ a lot of people. ShopRite says that they’ve lost 20 percent of their sales as a result of this construction project and I’m confident that the impact is worse for non-essential shopping.
“The DOT and the governor should be ashamed about the way they’re treating Toms River. Governor Murphy owes Toms River an apology. In just 10 months he’s raised our taxes, cut $20 million from our schools and his DOT is threatening prolong this traffic situation if we continue to complain about the negative impact it’s having on our local economy during this important holiday shopping season,” he said.
“We were assured it would be done by Christmas,” Council President Brian Kubiel said at a recent Township Council meeting. The subject had come up again, and no one, not even the township engineer, Robert Chankalian, said they had been kept informed of the state’s plans.
Councilman George Wittmann noted that even though it’s cold, there’s a company in Tinton Falls that produces asphalt year-round.
When people complain that this project has taken a long time, Vicari reminds them that problems started decades ago.
When he was mayor of Toms River, around 1986, there had been a plan to make Route 166 an overpass so it wouldn’t stop Route 37 traffic. That plan was done away with at some point.