ROXBURY, NJ – Substantial improvements are being proposed for the Howard Boulevard/Route 80 interchange, a project estimated to cost about $24 million.
The improvements would include construction of a new, larger Route 80 bridge over Howard Boulevard. This would enable widening the boulevard below into five lanes, with one being a center left-turn lane for northbound drivers aiming to go west on the interstate.
Additionally, there would be major upgrades to the Route 80 westbound off-ramp to Howard Boulevard, to the Route 80 eastbound ramp from southbound Howard Boulevard and to the Howard Boulevard-to-Route 80 eastbound ramp just north of the New Jersey Transit station.
The plan was shown Tuesday to Roxbury officials by consultant Joanne Bronson of Aurora Associates, state Department of Transportation (DOT) project manager Chris Manz and DOT Office of Community Affairs Regional Manager Deborah Hirt.
The improvements being proposed for the Route 80 westbound off-ramp include shifting the ramp south to move it away from the Quick Chek. This would give more time room for drivers to deal with northbound Howard Boulevard traffic attempting to turn left into the convenience store.
The plans also include adding a second left-turn lane where that ramp meets Howard Boulevard, said Manz and Brosnon. The planners are also calling for lengthening the ramp, giving motorists more time to decelerate after leaving the interstate, they said.
Similar lengthening of the Route 80 eastbound on-ramps will give drivers more time to accelerate up to interstate speed and merge with traffic, said Bronson.
She said the design for the interchange improvements is based on traffic projections through 2035 and includes possible development of a piece of the nearby former Hercules Powder Company property. “When all is said and done … we are going to have an improved level of service even considering future growth,” Bronson said.
Roxbury council members praised Bronson and Manz, agreeing the changes would clearly make life better for motorists.
However, Roxbury Councilman Fred Hall and Councilman Bob DeFillippo expressed concern that the proposal is unlikely to significantly alleviate the bottlenecks that currently develop when northbound Howard Boulevard drivers want to enter the Quick Chek.
DeFillippo also pointed out that blockages happen when buses leave the train station and when trucks on the boulevard, en route to Route 80 east, get stopped at the light by the station and then take a long time to get moving as they head for the interstate on-ramp.
Bronson said she will investigate the issues raised by Hall and DeFillippo and see if any “tweaks” can be made. Bronson noted there was very little room for change by the Quick Check and said she was unaware of the clogs caused by trucks and buses at the other end of the section. ““I will be perfectly honest,” she said. "I was not aware there was a choke point there.”
Even without further tweaks, the project is estimated to reduce by 74 percent the delay encountered by drivers trying to head south on Howard Boulevard after coming off Route 80 west. It is projected to reduce by 83 percent the “approach delay” faced by northbound Howard Boulevard drivers trying to get onto Route 80 west.
Manz said public information meetings will be scheduled. He said he hopes the project can go to the engineering phase by the end of the year.