Settle in, folks. That construction at the intersection of I-295, Route 42 and I-76 is going to be around for a while. The roughly $900 million project – the second costliest project the New Jersey Department of Transportation has ever undertaken – is slated to last until 2021.
If you're headed to Philadelphia, the Deptford Mall or the shore this summer, and you use route 42 or I-295 to get there, you can expect plenty of construction. The NJDOT promises to keep all lanes open – except for one perpetually-closed lane on I-76 heading towards Atlantic City – during rush hours, and as well as all day Fridays to accommodate shore traffic.
"We're doing this massive job where we're keeping everything as open as possible," said Joe Dee, the chief of staff at NJDOT.
Off-peak hours, overnights and the weekend, however, will see lane closures and heavy construction.
Before the construction started, drivers on route 42 heading towards Philadelphia who wanted to get on I-295 northbound had to basically switch lanes from 42 over to I-295 instead of using a traditional entrance ramp. Drivers on I-295 who wanted to exit onto 42 had to do the same.
The result was a bunch of drivers weaving between each other to enter and exit the two heavily used-highways. Unsurprisingly, the interchange saw several times the statewide average of accidents.
Additionally, cars continuing on I-295 – which connects Delaware to Trenton – through the interchange with route 42 had to slow from a posted 65 mph to 35 mph, and had to navigate two large curves.
All of these factors combined to make rush hour traffic a nightmare.
But the infamous "weave exit" is gone, replaced by a Jersey barrier. Motorists now enter and exit I-295 ad 42 using two newly-constructed ramps. When construction concludes in 2021, a flyover will carry I-295 traffic over route 42 at normal highway speeds. Drivers won't have to slow down or contend with weaving traffic.
But that's seven years away. For now, commuters and drivers will have to be ready for construction. The project, called "Direct Connection," is divided into four stages.
The first stage, which motorists have encountered so far, started in March 2013 and will continue until next fall. It includes construction on the portion of I-295 south of route 42 and construction around the route 130 north and south exits on route 42, as drivers approach the Walt Whiteman Bridge. Drivers can expect traffic cone-separated express lanes – called "cattle shoots" – and late-night and weekend exit closures for the next three to four months as crews work to make that strip of highway less susceptible to flooding.
Drivers will also see construction on Creek and Bell roads. The Bell Road bridge over I-295 will be completely replaced with a higher and wider span over the highway by the end of the year. The Creek Road bridge over route 42 will receive the same treatment by the end of next year.
The second stage starts this summer, which includes construction on the length of I-295 north of route 42/I-76. There will be lane closures during off-peak hours, as well as express lanes and a STOP sign on the entrance ramp to I-295 southbound from the Black Horse Pike heading towards Philly. The second stage is slated to end in late 2017.
Though the construction has been messy – and at times confusing –, commuters and drivers are glad to see the roads getting upgrades.
Jessica Jones, 24, of Gloucester City, a route sales driver with Entenmann's Bakery in Clementon, N.J., delivers to bakeries all over south Jersey, so she uses route 42 and I-295 often. The construction has created some confusion for her, like forcing her to find last minute detours ("Not always easy when I'm driving a truck with a 13'6" clearance," Jones said). Still, the construction is good if it means smoother traffic, she said.
David Allen, 29, of West Deptford, work at 4th and Queen in Philadelphia, so he takes I-295 to Route 42 everyday. "It's been tough," he said. "It's been kind of hard to predict. Even if it's not super backed up [by my house], you never know what you're going to get. It's been really a mixed bag."
Andrew Tasso, 31, lives in Haddon Heights, N.J. and commutes to 75 miles to Maryland every day. He's glad they got rid of the nerve-wracking weave exit, he said. He's looking forward to end result, noting the already smoother traffic flow. "It's a shame that it's going to take until 2021 to wrap up the project," he said.