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Plans for South Orange Avenue Improvements Unveiled

The county plans to improve safety on a 1.6-mile stretch of road through a federally funded $20 million project.

Essex County officials gave residents a first glimpse of reconstruction plans for the stretch of South Orange Avenue between Brookside Drive/Cherry Lane in Millburn and Harding Drive in South Orange at a meeting on Tuesday in West Orange.

The goal of the federally-funded project is to improve safety along the historically dangerous 1.6-mile stretch through South Mountain Reservation, according to Melinda Cortez, the county Department of Public Work's principal engineer.

There were 247 accidents between 1997 and 2002, an average of one every two weeks. The annual number has decreased in recent years, but the stretch is still above statewide averages, she said.

Consultant Michael Troncone of French & Parrello Associates, said the “big improvement” will be a six-foot shoulder added to the eastbound lane. There's currently a 13-foot shoulder on the westbound side, which will be narrowed to create the eastbound shoulder.

“We are making it compatible to cyclists,” he said. “We are not promoting the use of bikes or walking on the road, but making it safer for the high-end cyclists that we know will use it.”

The roadway will also be widened two feet, to create a one-foot shoulder on either side of the median. 

The pitch will be adjusted in several spots along the S-curve to alleviate drainage problems, and sidewalks will be added along the westbound lanes between Glenview Road and the Newstead condominiums in South Orange, Troncone said. A gravel path will be added along the eastbound lanes between Glenview Road and the Tops condominiums, but no private property will be used in creating the sidewalks.

The landscaping will be “spruced up” at the reservation entrance at Crest Drive, and ornamental lighting will be added along the roadway. The concrete median, rumble strips and other safety features will be added to the roadway, and the surface pavement will have improved traction.

Two pedestrian bridges are part of the plans—one replacing the existing River Trail Bridge and the other a new bridge in the Girl Scout camp area—and designed to fit the Olmsted look used throughout the reservation.

The group expects federal and state approval by the end of the summer. The plans, started in 2002, will then enter final design, and construction is slated for 2012. Construction will take two years, and the roadway will be reduced to one lane in each direction during that time.

Five alternative designs were also considered, but they required realigning the roadway to minimize the S-curves and would have had a much greater environmental impact. The selected design is “in the best interests of the environment and safety,” Troncone said.

Elizabeth Lenseth of TRC Environmental Corporation said that while this plan “will impact some trees, the overall purpose is to minimize impacts to the environment and reservation itself.” About one acre of trees will be removed, and a quarter of an acre of wetlands will be impacted. In compliance with Green Acres guidelines, an acre of land will be set aside for reforestation elsewhere in the county.

The $20-million project will be federally funded with New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and state Department of Transportation oversight. The money will come from the federal transportation fund, not stimulus money or other grant programs.

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