The state is in the midst of a $265 million reconstruction of the highway from Bay Head to South Seaside Park which, since September, has led to daily traffic delays, abrupt lane changes and closures as well as concerns from the local business community that the lucrative summer season could be a washout if construction did not stop.
Simpson said he and Gov. Chris Christie met last week to discuss the project and the governor strongly urged him to have as little inconveniences on the roadway as possible. Simpson and his staff were debating a plan to continue construction on a 1.7 mile section of the roadway south of the Curtis Point neighborhood in Brick during the summer to make up for time lost over the winter due to foul weather, but ultimately, conversations with local business owners in Lavallette on Monday afternoon led to the decision to open the highway completely throughout the summer.
While construction on many portions of the highway will fully come to an end by Thursday, in time for Memorial Day weekend, work will end on other portions by June 13. But even in the portions where the work will last a few more weeks, it will cease for the holiday weekend, said agency spokesman Steve Schapiro.
Simpson's call to open the highway completely came after he met with the owners of several Lavallette businesses, including the owners of Martin's Casuals, Shaded Vision and the Crab's Claw Inn. It was at the Crab's Claw that the final call was made.
"Thank you for taking that weight off my shoulders," said Tyler Mesanko, owner of the Shaded Vision shop in the borough's downtown business district, when Simpson announced his plan. "There's a small window for people around here to really make a living, Memorial Day to Labor Day, and it's hard enough even when the roads are perfect and the beaches are perfect."
"We were concerned about everything beyond the business district, because people have to get to the business district," said Mark Speaker, president of the Lavallette Business Association.
Simpson told business owners, local officials and reporters that the project has been difficult because work crews are often faced with going by outdated maps that do not show all of the utilities under the roadway that need to be replaced.
"We're not just digging up the old roadway and slapping some blacktop on there," said Simpson.
The construction project not only includes a rebuilding of the highway itself – rather than a resurfacing – but the installation of new utility pipes and a state of the art drainage and pump system.
As for what work will stop when – and where:
- Work will be halted along the entire length of the island for Memorial Day Weekend, between noon on Thursday, May 22 through noon on Tuesday, May 27.
- Within mileposts 0-4 in Berkeley, Seaside Park, Seaside Heights, and Toms River: The work on the Route 37 bridge interchange is effectively complete already, and all lanes are functioning normally. Work on Route 35 will be suspended at noon on June 13 and will resume on Sept. 3. Work on the side streets will continue throughout the summer.
- Within mileposts 4-9 in Lavallette, Toms River, and Brick: Work on Route 35 northbound in the Lavallette Business District between Brown Avenue and Bond Avenue will be halted at noon on May 22 and will resume on September 3. Work on the other portions of Route 35 northbound and southbound will stop at noon on June 13 and will resume September 3.
Work on the side streets will continue throughout the summer. New Jersey Natural Gas will be working in the northbound shoulder as it installs new gas lines.
- Within mileposts 9-12.5 in Mantoloking and Bay Head: Much of this section has been reconstructed and is complete beginning at Osborne Avenue in Bay Head and heading south. Work on Route 35 and all sides streets will be suspended at noon on May 22 and will resume September 3.