The day may come when you’ll no longer be able to turn left from Fischer Boulevard to go south on Hooper Avenue.
According to Frank Scarantino, Ocean County engineer, that day is a long way off.
“Even if we built it tomorrow, it doesn’t mean we’d turn off the light tomorrow,” Scarantino said Tuesday.
The county is in the process of designing improvements to the Fischer Boulevard and College Drive jughandles on Hooper Avenue to accommodate increases in traffic expected as a result of the Kean at Ocean partnership at Ocean County College.
In April and again in August, residents of Squire Village, a housing development just south of OCC, received letters advising them of the county’s application to the Department of Environmental Protection for wetlands permissions needed for the project.
The application included preliminary drawings of the changes – changes that made neighboring residents nervous about how they would be able to access their development. Currently residents of Squire Village can use the jughandle at College Drive to turn left and go south on Hooper Avenue, and Fischer Boulevard is a second option. The preliminary drawings gave residents concerns that both of those would be eliminated, forcing northbound drivers to use the jughandle at Silver Bay Road, a half-mile further north, to access southbound Hooper Avenue and reach their homes.
Scarantino said the plans residents received are preliminary plans that only address wetlands issues, and that there will continue to be access from Fischer to go south on Hooper Avenue, and other possible solutions for Squire Village and nearby streets.
“They’re designed to show dimensions sufficient to make sure the environmental impacts are mitigated,” Scarantino said. “They’re not construction plans.”
Scarantino said the Squire Village Association reached out to him expressing concerns about the plans, and he met with a committee of three residents in late August.
"There were a lot of unknowns," said John Harris, one of the members of the committee. But he said Scarantino told the committee that the drawings they received as part of the letters announcing the project were just preliminary plans.
Harris said Scarantino told them a left-turn lane from the northbound lanes of Hooper Avenue into Squire Village was one possibility, and noted it was not included on the plans because it has no wetlands impact.
"I understand their angst," Scarantino said. "They had all the right questions and did fully understand what I was trying to explain," including the fact that there are plenty of options of how to accommodate the access needs of Squire Village.
"There are some very good ideas in place, all of which would probably work," he said. And there's plenty of time, too, he said. Scarantino said that while the DEP has issued the wetlands permits, construction on the project is still at least a year away.
"If everything goes perfectly, we could begin in late 2013," he said, "but that rarely happens, so we're more likely looking at early 2014."
"Our comfort level is a lot better than it was," said Harris, who lives on Liverpool Court. "He was very professional. We plan to meet with him regularly" as the project proceeds. Harris said the committee had reported back to the Squire Village board but the association hasn't had a general meeting since the committee met with Scarantino.
Scarantino said he also is consulting with members of the Toms River Regional Board of Education because changes to College Drive and to Fischer Boulevard affect Toms River Intermediate East, which sits on the eastern side of Hooper across from Squire Village.
"I want to make sure all their concerns are addressed as well," Scarantino said.
The Fischer Boulevard intersection is the primary focus of the plans. Scarantino said an initial consideration of extending Fischer Boulevard west was determined to not be feasible, so the proposed change would add a lane that parallels the current jughandle, to take drivers from Fischer Boulevard and funnel them around the circle into the right lane of the southbound lanes of Hooper Avenue.
Scarantino said that even when that construction is completed, it's unlikely the current left-turn signal from Fischer onto Hooper will be turned off soon. The volume of traffic will determine when the light is shut off.
Currently, Hooper Avenue in that stretch handles 32,000 to 34,000 vehicles per day. Traffic from the Kean at Ocean opening will add to that, but Scarantino said he believes it will be 2016 or 2017 at the soonest before the traffic volume will justify turning off the left-turn signal. It could be as far off as 2020.
"It's not happening tomorrow," he said.