2004-02-11 / Front Page

Howell Road exit from bypass will stay closed

State DOT nixes plan
to realign ramp that has never opened
Staff Writer

State DOT nixes plan
to realign ramp that has never opened
Staff Writer

HOWELL — Although a published remark attributed to the commissioner of the Department of Transportation stated that a problem at the Howell Road exit ramp off the Route 33 bypass would be corrected, that will not happen.

DOT Commissioner John F. Lettiere Jr. was quoted in a local daily newspaper in December saying that $200,000 has been set aside for the realignment of the ramp and that the work would be done in the spring of 2004.

While that quote may have been accurate at the time Lettiere made it, the situation has changed and the exit ramp leading from the Route 33 bypass to Howell Road will remain closed.

DOT spokesman Michael Horan told Greater Media Newspapers last week that the state has reversed itself and there will not be any additional work done to the Howell Road ramp. Instead, the ramp will remain closed to all but emergency vehicles.

Horan said state officials had a change of heart after restudying the geometric standards used in the design of the bypass and ramp and determining that the exit ramp does not require any engineering changes to accommodate a 40 mph speed limit on Howell Road.

He said the ramp was designed for a lower speed limit on Howell Road and if the road’s present 50 mph speed limit is lowered to 40 mph the exit ramp could be opened.

"Our position is that [the exit ramp] could be opened if the speed limit was reduced and we are still willing to work with the municipality to reach that agreement. The decision as to whether or not it opens is left with the municipality and whether they would lower the speed limit," Horan said.

According to Howell Traffic Safety Officer Matthew Bishop, the 40 mph speed limit cannot be accommodated due to the fact that "Howell Road is not designed for a 40 mph posting regardless of what the overpass and exit ramp were supposedly designed for."

Well before the final leg of the Route 33 bypass opened, Bishop was trying to get the DOT to admit that the design of the Howell Road exit ramp was flawed and presented an obvious safety hazard to motorists.

Bishop said the DOT turned a deaf ear to the information he provided.

In a December 2003 letter, Bishop informed DOT project engineer Mahesh Patel, "I cannot understand why NJDOT would want to risk peoples’ lives by opening this ramp in its current configuration. It is not safe and it will not work."

Bishop detailed the history of his involvement in addressing the design problems of the ramp and the opposition he met from DOT engineers. He said that in May 2002 he observed that a ramp was being constructed at Howell Road.

Bishop said that upon stopping to inquire, he was informed by on-site workers that it was a temporary ramp to be used for construction access. The officer said that several weeks later he saw that the exit ramp had been paved and guard rails had been installed and he knew the ramp was in fact permanent.

Bishop told Patel, "The location of the ramp in relation to the crest on the (Howell Road) overpass does not allow adequate sight distance for exiting motorists. This creates the serious potential for southbound vehicles on Howell Road to crash into vehicles turning left onto Howell Road from the (bypass) exit ramp."

Bishop also told Patel that at a December 2002 meeting at which Howell Police Chief Ronald T. Carter was present along with DOT representatives and personnel from McCormick and Taylor, the engineering firm that was contracted to do the work on the bypass, McCormick and Taylor engineers conceded that an error had been made in the construction design of the ramp.

According to Bishop, the engineers admitted that the sight distance and lo­cation of the ramp was designed as if the speed limit on Howell was 25 mph. The speed limit on the road is 50 mph.

Bishop said a project engineer told him he had "only seen the project on pa­per, I’ve never been on site." The traffic safety officer said Carter told the state representatives he would "do whatever it takes to keep the ramp closed, including posting an officer there around the clock."

Bishop said the DOT was given three options at the time — move the exit ramp, install a traffic signal or keep the exit ramp closed.

In concluding his letter to Patel, Bishop wrote, "I stand by my judgment (as well as Chief Carter’s) that the Route 33 east bypass exit ramp to Howell Road northbound is not safe no matter what speed is posted on Howell Road. The majority of drivers are safe drivers. If 40 mph is posted on Howell Road, it is not those that are traveling at 40 mph that concern me. It is the vehicles that are traveling above the "safe" 41.5 mph de­sign speed of the overpass and ramp terminus location."

Bishop informed Patel that traffic studies conducted on Howell Road indi­cated that 85 percent of drivers are traveling at 56 mph (i.e., 6 mph above the posted speed limit). The officer said if the speed limit on Howell Road is low­ered the exit ramp from the Route 33 bypass will become "fatality central."

The Township Council decided last summer to follow the advice of the police department and maintain the 50 mph speed limit on Howell Road.

The final 1.5-mile leg of the Route 33 bypass around Freehold Borough was built after years of delay. Heading east, it stretches from Halls Mill Road in Freehold Township to a point just east of Fairfield Road in Howell. The $30 mil­lion final leg opened a year ago but the Howell Road exit ramp has never been opened.

Horan said at this time the Howell Road exit ramp will remain closed and will only be used by emergency vehicles.

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