The confluence of I-295, I-76, and Route 42 in Camden County is one of the busiest and most congested interchanges in all of New Jersey and it is about to be completely rebuilt. This particular interchange handles daily traffic volumes of over 250,000 vehicles and also has one of the highest accident rates in the state. Those who regularly travel through this area are all too familiar with the incidents and congestion that occur regularly. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is making a significant investment in order to improve traffic flow and safety along the ramps and bridges that currently carry I-295 traffic across Routes 42 and I-76 with a project called Direct Connection.
For years, NJDOT has developed and analyzed several alternative ramp configurations that would allow I-295 traffic to travel directly over the interchange below without the need for lane changes or exit ramps. This project was appropriately named Direct Connection. The effort put forth by NJDOT and its contractors for Direct Connection will be monumental compared to most other roadway projects and it represents a tremendous investment in transportation infrastructure for South Jersey. With that in mind, the Direct Connection project is going to be around for quite some time, which is why we are taking this opportunity to prepare you for it now. Preliminary construction is already underway and the timeline carries this project through to competition in late 2021.
Current Conditions of the I-295 / I-76 / Route 42 Interchange
Interstate highways are designed to be free flowing, continuous roadways that carry high volumes of traffic. On the contrary, I-295 has unavoidable 35mph winding ramps located at Exit 28 of I-295 where it connects with Route 42 and I-76. This section of roadway is susceptible to delays and incidents on a regular basis and is commonly referred to as "Al-Jo's curve", named for the tavern once located at the notorious sharp left-hand curve and tunnel. These exit ramps act as a chokepoint for traffic as the three travel lanes are reduced to two. The speed limit is also lowered to 35mph for the duration of the ramps until I-295 regains its three lane capacity and 55mph speed limit on the other side of Route 42.
Future Interchange Configuration
After years of study, public input, and careful review of 15 different alternative ramp alignments NJDOT has settled on the final design for the new interchange. The outcome of the Direct Connection project will be completely a realigned I-295 mainline as shown in the provided maps. This new overpass will provide for three travel lanes on I-295 in both directions to cross over Routes 42 and I-76 unimpeded at speeds of 55 mph.
Construction Contracts and Timeline
Construction for the Direct Connection Project has been divided into four major contracts spanning almost 9 years. Each of the four individual contracts is larger than most entire highway projects due to the sheer size and scope of the work involved. As such, the estimated completion date of 2021 is subject to change based on weather, contractor performance, and funding. Contract 1 has already commenced with the ground breaking ceremony in Bellmawr, NJ on March 13, 2013. As the timeline currently stands Direct Connection will be finished sometime late in the year 2021.
Advance ITS Contract
Ahead of Contract 1 is a preliminary Advance Intelligent Transportation System Contract, which began in late 2012. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is the implementation of traffic monitoring and feedback technology to reduce congestion along travel corridors based on real-time information. Simply put, ITS technology makes roads smarter by adjusting the timing of traffic signals to be adjusted based on volume observed by cameras and sensors. ITS technology is already in place on several major roadways in our region which helps to keep traffic flowing better during peak hours.
Remember, this project is long-term which requires long-term solutions and the foresight to recognize potential issues before they arise. New ITS cameras and sensors are being installed at traffic signals on Routes 130 and 168 in anticipation of the higher traffic volumes expected on these roads due to the work on I-295. These ITS improvements in the vicinity of the Direct Connection project represent preventative measures being taken by NJDOT to improve the level of service on these roads to accommodate drivers seeking alternate routes around the construction area.
Contract 1 construction will include work along I-295 south of Essex Avenue, along I-76, and Route 42. The Creek Road bridge over Rt.42 and Bell Road bridge over I-295 will be replaced and constructs a temporary widening that is needed for a future stage of construction. Contract 1 is scheduled to begin in Winter of 2013 and should be complete in the Fall of 2015.
Contract 2 construction will include work along I-295 north of Browning Road and portions of connecting ramps to and from I-76. Contract 2 is scheduled to begin in the Summer of 2014 and should be complete in the Fall of 2017.
Contract 3 construction will focus on completing the I-295 mainline direct connection ramp over Routes 42 / I-76. It also includes work on the Browning Road overpass and ramps to Route 42. At the end of Contract 3 I-295 southbound will be partially opened in the new configuration. Contract 3 will also include the relocation of 12 units within the Bellmawr Park Mutual Housing Corporation. Contract 3 is scheduled to begin in the Summer of 2016 and finish in the Fall 2019.
Contract 4 is the final construction phase of the Direct Connection project. It includes the completion roadwork along I-76 and Route 42, I-295 northbound, and the remainder of all connection ramps to and from Route 42 / I-76. Contract 4 is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2019 and finish in the Fall 2021.