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Township anxious Route 38 widening could have adverse impact

In May 2018, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) put forth a proposal to shift and reconfigure sections of Route 38 running through Moorestown. The township responded to that proposal with a list of concerns, so when NJDOT requested a meeting with the township on Friday, Oct. 4, township officials anticipated the visit was to chat about those concerns.

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That wasn’t quite the case. Township Manager Thomas Neff said NJDOT came in with a new plan that no longer requires township approval to proceed. Neff said the first proposal required the township’s go-ahead because NJDOT planned to use some township property to widen Route 38. Fearful of the impact work might have on Strawbridge Lake, the township refused to give them that approval, but now that DOT’s new plan doesn’t entail utilizing township property, the state is free to proceed.

Steve Shapiro, deputy director of communications at NJDOT, said the project is in the preliminary engineering phase, which is an early stage of project development. He said their goal is to “improve safety and operational performance” of the Route 38, Church Street and Fellowship Road intersection.

“Tentative plans include roadway widening and other improvements to reduce congestion and improve safety, as well as replacing a bridge on Church Street to meet current standards,” Shapiro said.

He said they anticipate construction to commence sometime in 2022 or 2023.

“NJDOT is working closely with town and county officials, and will continue to do so as the project progresses,” Shapiro said.

Neff said in May 2018, they expressed an array of concerns about widening Church Street at the Route 38 intersection. He said they feared the work would impact to stormwater systems affecting Strawbridge Lake. They also had concerns about the DOT needing small portions of Strawbridge Lake Park, which would impact a township-owned sewer pump station at the intersection. He said the widening would also make it easier for trucks to make the turn off Route 38 onto Church Street, which could possibly increase the number of trucks utilizing the already busy street. 

The new plan shifts widening and improvements from where they were originally proposed, according to Neff, with Route 38 shifting south in the Church Street area and widening the intersection on the southern side instead of the Lake Strawbridge side.

“We understand DOT’s desire to improve traffic flow on Route 38, but we want any improvements to have as little impact on our residents as possible,” Neff said. 

A plan with the least impact would minimize stormwater impact to Strawbridge Lake and limit truck traffic on residential streets, according to Neff. 

Moorestown’s Director of Community Development Anthony J. Zappasodi said NJDOT never gave the township or the county a “final” design for the intersection. He said all of their current comments are based on the preliminary design with which they presented. 

“So, although I am hesitant to speak for the NJDOT, they still have to move forward with a ‘final’ design that is supposed to incorporate our comments, and the comments that were coordinated with Burlington County,” Zappasodi said. “They may have to have more public meetings, as I am unsure.”

Zappasodi said the township voiced concerns to the county and NJDOT about the timing of the construction, the phasing of it and the detours that will be necessary to effectuate the process. 

“We were obviously concerned about the increased traffic on Main Street and on Mt. Laurel Road into town,” Zappasodi said. “The NJDOT never gave us a detailed schedule of improvements, phasing, detours.” 

Neff said they’re still waiting on a full copy of the plan, which the township plans to share with the public as soon as they receive it. He said at that point, they’ll be asking for input from residents, engineers and others to determine their next steps. 

 

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