Motorists travelling northbound to Brick on the Garden State Parkway have seen a different landscape emerge at exit 90 over the past week.
State transportation officials said the clearing of trees and brush at the exit is part of a planned $75 million improvement project that will restore the shoulders, reconstruct bridges and make other safety improvements between mileposts 90.5 and 93.5 on the state toll road.
A contract was awarded in August for the work. Midlantic Construction LLC of Barnegat, the lowest of five bidders, will lead the project.
All lanes will be widened to 12 feet, and 12 foot shoulders will be constructed on both sides of the roadway along the entire construction area. The lanes and shoulders will conform with current standards to support traffic traveling in excess of 60 mph.
The improvements in Brick are part of a larger plan designed to improve safety on the stretch of the Parkway between mile markers 83.5 in Toms River and 99.5 in Monmouth County.
A 2007 highway safety assessment identified six high-priority areas on the Parkway; four of the areas are in the 16-mile project zone. Between 2000 and 2007, there were 9,000 accidents in the area, including 63 fatal accidents.
In response to the safety assessment, the speed limit was lowered from 65 to 55 mph, a series of interim safety measures was adopted and preliminary engineering on the shoulder-widening project was begun.
Complicating matters, officials have said accidents in the area are difficult and dangerous for state troopers and other emergency responders to access because of the lack of shoulders.
"There is no better use for our capital dollars than projects like this one that make our roads safer," Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, who serves as Chairman of the Turnpike Authority Board of Commissioners, said this summer when the contracts were approved.
“When the project is complete, a section of the Parkway with narrow shoulders, narrow travel lanes and a history of accidents will be built to modern design and safety standards. Police, fire and EMS vehicles will be better able to access accident scenes. There will be room on the shoulders to move disabled vehicles out of the way of traffic. Drivers who lose control of their vehicles and leave the roadway will have room in the clear zone to regain control without striking a tree or going down a steep embankment."
"Lives will be saved because of this project," he added.
The current phase of the project, transportation officials said, is expected to be completed in 2014.
Future plans call for a realignment of the exits and entrances in Brick.