Feds OK New Jersey’s ‘Direct Connection’ project

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Plans for a $900 million upgrade to New Jersey’s I-295/I-76/Route 42 interchange can move forward now that federal officials have given final environmental approval, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Friday, March 20.

“This project will help the people of New Jersey and their economy,” LaHood says. “Infrastructure investment like this creates jobs and helps local businesses.”

The record of decision signed by officials from the Federal Highway Administration allows the project’s right-of-way acquisition and construction planning to begin. When completed, the improved interchange will improve safety and relieve congestion significantly, officials say. Construction is expected to begin in 2012.

“We are pleased with the Federal Highway Administration’s record of decision,” says New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. “These are the kinds of infrastructure improvement projects that will get our economy moving and put our citizens back to work.”

The project – dubbed “Direct Connection” – calls for the reconstruction of the interchange to separate drivers on I-295 from local traffic. It will include new roadway and bridges and completes a missing link on I-295 that will allow drivers to continue straight through on the interstate.

Currently, I-295 drivers going through the interchange are forced to reduce speed drastically to merge onto 35-mph ramps also used by local traffic. The improvements are designed to allow a safer drive without the dangerous merging and weaving movements on existing ramps.

Located in Camden County, N.J., near Bellmawr, Mt. Ephraim and Gloucester City, the interchange is considered one of the busiest in the region. It is a major carrier of Philadelphia commuter traffic via the Walt Whitman Bridge and is a connection to the southern New Jersey shore via Route 42 and the Atlantic City Expressway.