By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – A Monmouth County plan to replace one of the bridges on Seven Bridges Road calls for the temporary installation of traffic lights at two Branch Avenue intersections. And that’s a problem for many who live in the immediate area.
Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore appeared at the Borough Council meeting Monday, May 7, to explain the $2.7 million project, expected to begin in July, and the need for the traffic lights during its six-month duration.
While none of the residents disputed the need for the work on Seven Bridges Road, what worries them, many said, was what the new signals would mean for traffic in their neighborhood. They also questioned whether the signals would become permanent.
One light will be located at Branch Avenue and White Road and the now blinking light at Branch Avenue and Rumson Road will be operated as a standard traffic signal.
Molly Gearty said she and her family purchased their Branch Avenue home in 2008, “because we saw Little Silver as a good place to raise our family.
“Now I’m going to be stuck with idling traffic,” Gearty said, noting that auto exhaust has been shown to be a contributor to such maladies as asthma and other conditions.
“People move here for their children,” she said, “and I’m not happy with what’s going to happen to mine.”
William Heine, Monmouth County public information officer, said last week, that County Bridge S-27 on Seven Bridges Road is an aging timber structure spanning Little Silver Creek, in the vicinity of Little Silver Point Road.
Plans call for the old timber structure to be dismantled and a new concrete span to be erected there.
The aging, existing bridge is “structurally deficient,” Heine said.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to fall,” he said. “It means it doesn’t meet current design standards.”
The new bridge will be wider with 12-foot lanes, 3-foot shoulders and a 6-foot pedestrian walkway on the bridge’s westerly side.
A pedestrian span will be available during construction, Heine said.
County officials have awarded the $2.7 million project to Lucas Brothers, Inc. Marlboro, which has begun pre-construction work, including relocating utility poles and equipment.
During construction some temporary lane closures are expected for the project, slated to begin following the July 4 holiday.
Both signals will initially be blinking lights to allow drivers to become accustomed to them and then they will be switched to the standard red-yellow-green combination.
The new lights, Ettore said during the council session, are intended for public safety and better traffic flow on busy Branch Avenue during the construction.
The state Department of Transportation Trust Fund will be funding the project, according to Heine and Ettore.
“I can live with a temporary light,” said Branch Avenue resident Jon Sisco, who then asked Ettore, “Where do we stand with its permanency?”
Tod Sizer, who also lives on Branch, said, “There are two dozen families here today,” who share his concern. “The concern I have is the plans that you have been trying to ram down our throat for 25 years,” that of a multi-lane, lighted intersection.
“This is a signal detour route,” Ettore responded, adding that there are no plans at this time to keep the lights past the project completion.
The governing body would have a say as to whether the lights should remain when the construction ends. After that, the decision would be with the county Board of Freeholders, as Seven Bridges Road comes under county jurisdiction, Ettore said.
Mayor Robert Neff Jr. told the audience the council has not had any discussion about keeping the signals. “We’re not going to try to slip anything passed anybody here. That I can assure you.”
“My professional opinion,” Ettore said, is “a traffic signal is needed at Branch and Rumson. That has been my opinion for 20 years,” he said.
Police Captain Gary LaBruno said the neighborhood is a high-traffic area and a problematic one for safety concerns. Branch Avenue serves as an alternative to state Highway 35, which runs parallel.
“Those two lights were needed 10 years ago,” LaBruno said. “Those two intersections are not safe.”
As many as 40,000 vehicles travel Branch Avenue during a given week, he said.
LaBruno and Chief Daniel Shaffery stressed the department has not made a determination about whether the lights need to be kept. “We’re data driven,” Shaffery said, “and the data’s not in. No decision has been made.”
The project first came up about six years ago with Ettore and other county and local officials conducting public input sessions, according to the engineer. The project was delayed because of state Department of Environmental Protection considerations that stalled approvals, LaBruno said.
“This one seems like it’s been percolating for a while and snuck up on us,” with the recent announcement of a go-ahead, Councilman Daniel J. O’Hern Jr. said.
“We understand this is an issue that’s not going to disappear,” Neff said. “And we’ll be looking at it over the next six months.”