The county is ready to take the next steps to begin building the Lacey portion of the Barnegat Branch Trail.
An ordinance introduced Tuesday at the county Board of Freeholders meeting in Toms River would spend $600,000 for the design, permitting and construction of the next phase of the trail. That piece, Phase V-A, would stretch from Lacey's southern boundary with Waretown to Lacey Road.
A public hearing and vote on the ordinance will be held at the July 18 meeting of the freeholders.
The Lacey portion of the trail is one of the latter pieces to be built. Construction of the trail, which began in 2007, has already covered more than half of the trail's eventual 15.6-mile distance. The completed portions of the trail run from Barnegat through Waretown to the Lacey boundary, as well as a stretch from William A. Dudley Park to Maryland Avenue in Berkeley.
The trail, as constructed so far, is mostly gravel with parking areas and benches at certain points along the trail. It also includes crossovers designed to alert drivers to the trail crossing. There are signposts along the way that give information about the area where the trail passes through.
Much of the trail lies along an old railway right-of-way, and in most cases the towns have given property to the freeholders for this purpose.
In Lacey, the township owns the rights to the land and the future of the old railroad right-of-way is a point of contention. Some argue that a road — primarily along the northern 2.5-mile stretch from Lacey Road to the boundary with Berkeley Township — is needed to relieve some of the congestion on Route 9 and that the railroad right-of-way is the place to do it.
There is a great deal of sentiment in Lacey, however, for the town to use the stretch for the rail trail. The Lacey Rail-Trail Environmental Committee has been fighting to preserve the right-of-way as a recreaational trail, a fight that's been going on since 2001.
The stretch the county is focusing on right now, however, is the piece from the southern boundary with Waretown north to Lacey Road. That stretch will be the most difficult to design, county officials say, because it has numerous crossovers and because it goes through property near the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating facility.
The county just recently completed the stretch from Route 532 in Waretown to the Lacey boundary, meaning you can now ride or walk the trail from just north of Route 554 in Barnegat all the way to the Lacey boundary, a stretch of just over 4 miles. The stretch in Berkeley Township covers about 2 miles, and an additional mile of the trail exists in Beachwood.
For more information on the entire trail, visit the Ocean County Planning Department's page, here.