Traffic changes eyed for area of joint base

Pemberton Borough Mayor William Kochersperger says rerouting of traffic around Joint Base McGuire-Dix- Lakehurst may "help a little, but I don't see it benefiting the borough a lot one way or another."
Pemberton Borough Mayor William Kochersperger says rerouting of traffic around Joint Base McGuire-Dix- Lakehurst may "help a little, but I don't see it benefiting the borough a lot one way or another." (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)

A study will urge action to ease volume on residential streets and aid access to businesses hurt by security steps after 9/11.

Posted: September 03, 2011

Ten years ago, a steady stream of cars passed Tom Harper's service station in Wrightstown, especially during the summer, when vacationers headed to the Jersey Shore.

Many drove south from Trenton, passing through the heart of neighboring Fort Dix on Texas Avenue before picking up Routes 530 and 70 to Seaside Heights.

Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Texas Avenue was closed as the military ramped up security.

The rerouted traffic brought big changes to nearby businesses and communities. Residential streets grew suddenly busy, while some commercial areas became quiet.

"I pump half of the gas that I pumped back then," said Harper, who is mayor of Wrightstown. "I used to be open from 6:30 a.m. to 12 at night. Now I close at 7 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. on weekends."

Help may be on the way for Wrightstown and other Burlington and Ocean Counties municipalities affected by the precautions taken by the military installation now known as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Next month, a Joint Base Transportation Study will recommend that traffic be rerouted again to cut down on the volume, and avoid narrow streets, in Pemberton Borough and Browns Mills that weren't designed to handle it.

The report also will suggest that motorists be allowed to cross the base on existing and new roads in areas with "lower security needs," said Mark Remsa, director of economic development and regional planning for the Burlington County Bridge Commission, who participated in the study.

"There would be two bypass routes to move traffic," Remsa said.

The new roads would be on land owned by the federal government and would not require right-of-way acquisition, according to Remsa, who is familiar with the report's recommendations. It is not clear who would pay for the construction.

"Wrightstown is a business town more than a residential town," Harper said. When Texas Avenue closed, Wrightstown lost a major access road.

"Businesses tried to hang on, but many couldn't," he said. "Several retailers, restaurants, and specialty stores were greatly affected."

He hasn't seen the study, Harper said, but "any traffic that's coming into Wrightstown is going to help."

More than 22,000 people work at the joint base, which is surrounded by Wrightstown, New Hanover, North Hanover, Pemberton Borough, Pemberton Township, and Springfield Township in Burlington County, and Lakehurst Borough and Manchester, Jackson, and Plumsted Townships in Ocean County.

Creating a better relationship between them and the nation's only contiguous Air Force-Army-Navy mega-base was the goal of military, state, and local government officials who held high-stakes discussions that led to the 2009 completion of a $300,000, 333-page joint land-use study.

The transportation report will be released Oct. 3 at a meeting to be held at the Plumsted Municipal Building in New Egypt, Ocean County.

"The base has been very cooperative," Remsa said. At the same time, "we didn't propose anything that the base would feel uncomfortable with, nothing that had high security needs."

After the 9/11 attacks, traffic was moved away from secure areas of the base to Browns Mills-Cookstown Road (Route 667), through Browns Mills on the east, and to Hanover Street (Route 616) through Pemberton on the west.

"The roads [in the towns] were poorly suited for heavy travel," Remsa said.

Under one recommendation, southbound motorists on Browns Mills-Cookstown Road could avoid Browns Mills by heading west on Range Road, then taking a fork onto a proposed road that would cross the base. They would then turn left on Trenton Road (Route 545) and follow it south to Route 530.

"I see pros and cons," said Dave Patriarca, mayor of Pemberton Township, which includes Browns Mills. "It could relieve some congestion, but at the same time I have concerns that it would draw traffic out of our business district."

Farther west, under another recommendation, traffic would be moved around Pemberton Borough by extending Springfield Road, near New Lisbon, over Browns Mills Road (Route 530) and a road to be built on base property.

That new route would end at Pointville Road (Route 630), where motorists would head west to Hanover Street (Route 616), make a right, and follow that onto Fort Dix Road. They would then turn left on Route 68, and right on Saylors Pond Road, which would take them into Wrightstown.

"That may help a little, but I don't see it benefiting the borough a lot one way or another," said Pemberton Borough Mayor William Kochersperger. "It might capture a small percentage of the traffic that goes through town."

The Joint Land Use Study, funded mainly by the Defense Department, also provides recommendations to improve traffic flow, preserve a buffer zone around the base, reduce noise, encourage cluster housing developments, and coordinate business development.

"If we can make it easier to get in and out and around the base, then it will be more likely that people will patronize businesses, and [residential] communities will be helped," said Lee Klein, the transportation study project manager with T&M Associates of Middletown, N.J. "That will be advantageous for everybody."


Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

 


 

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