One of New Jersey's most notorious traffic bottlenecks may soon disappear.
A $2.3 billion project to widen the New Jersey Turnpike from six to 12 lanes between Interchange 6, in Burlington County, and Interchange 9, in New Brunswick, is nearly complete. The northbound lanes are expected to open Saturday night into Sunday, while the southbound lanes will open next weekend.
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The work on what officials say is the equivalent of 170 miles of new lanes to widen the turnpike began in June 2009. The project's goal was to ease the chronic traffic bottlenecks that occur near Interchange 8A, where the car and truck lanes merge.
The average daily traffic volume in the 35-mile stretch where the work was done ranges from 145,200 vehicles at the northern end and 98,600 at the southern end. The widening added three new lanes in each direction between Interchange 6 and 8A, and one lane in each direction between 8A and 9.
Thomas Feeney, a turnpike authority spokesman, said the project came in more than $200 million below budget.
"It's the largest capacity expansion in the 62-year history of the turnpike," Feeney said. "At the peak of construction, it was the largest ongoing roadway project in the Western Hemisphere."
Many drivers who travel the turnpike on a regular basis said they were thankful for the newly added lanes, saying they are long overdue.
"It's just a mess, a big fat mess there most of the time, and on weekends I do whatever I can to avoid the area, because what should be a 10-minute trip can take you an hour or more,'" said Thomas Sharpton, a Toms River resident who works in the New Brunswick area and often travels along the turnpike. "I'm hopeful that these new lanes will ease the congestion, but I won't believe it until I see it with my own eyes."
The project, initially expected to cost about $2.5 billion, was financed through a series of bonds. It will be repaid with revenue from the last toll hike, which took effect in October 2008.
In recent days, crews have been finishing up paving, striping and line painting work. They also will be moving barriers and changing signs, though the latter work may be delayed because it's "weather dependent."
A ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the project's completion is scheduled for Friday morning at the Molly Pitcher service area in Cranbury Township.