Lakewood Briefs

Freeholders Slam DOT Rejection to Widen Route 9

Ocean County’s government sharply criticized a decision by New Jersey’s Department of Transportation to once again pass on a proposal to widen Route 9’s most congested areas. The rejection is the most recent move in a years-long effort to relieve congestion on the heavily traveled road.

“We cannot believe that even after the completion of a study of this area of Route 9 clearly shows widening will greatly improve safety and traffic flow on this road – a major corridor in Ocean County – we have again been told by the state it’s not going to happen,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “Route 9 in Ocean County has not been widened or drastically improved since the days of the stagecoach…This particular area – between Lakewood and Toms River – is our fastest growing area and the decision to not do the major widening improvements creates nothing more than additional hazards brought on by unprecedented congestion all filtered into two lanes – one north, one south.”

The Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted a resolution at its June 17 Board meeting calling on the state to reconsider its decision and move ahead with the reconstruction and widening of this highway which remains mostly one lane north and one lane south.

As the south side of Lakewood has grown exponentially in recent years, traffic on the one lane thoroughfare is often highly congested. A plan to widen the road was reviewed by state authorities but was rejected, committing only to a handful of incremental improvements and maintenance projects.

“The major improvements including widening the road and adding new lanes, is the work that is necessary to upgrade the Route 9 corridor to finally meet the needs of the fastest growing areas of Ocean County,” said Ocean County Freeholder John P. Kelly, who is liaison to the Ocean County Engineering Department. “Clearly abandoning the larger scope of this proposal does nothing but exacerbate further a critical transportation problem that is being experienced daily on this roadway.”

Earlier this month, the Freeholders criticized a decision by the state to raise tolls and asked that Ocean County be given a seat on the DOT’s highway decision making board.

“Whereas the state of New Jersey appears perfectly content with taking the hard earned money of Ocean County motorists and commuters through its toll hike increases, gas taxes and the like, it cannot seem to help Ocean County by providing major improvements to the state’s badly maintained and often fraught with safety concerns corridor,” said Mr. Vicari.

Rep. Smith Sponsors JUSTICE Act

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) co-sponsored the House of Representatives version of a police reform bill being promoted by Senate Republicans. The bill is known as the JUSTICE Act—Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere and was first introduced by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC).

Rep. Smith said that the bill is “designed to ensure greater transparency and accountability in policing in order to build safer communities.”

In response to the anti-police protests and rioting sparked by the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minnesota police, pressure has built on Congress to take action on police brutality. In an attempt to stave off more radical approaches being championed, Republican legislators have designed the JUSTICE Act, in an attempt to offer more training and oversight without undermining the abilities of law enforce to maintain public safety.

According to a statement by Rep. Smith’s office, the legislation includes new funding of $225 million for improved police training—including best practices for violence de-escalation and alternatives to the use of force—which will likely reduce injury or death to both police officers and criminal suspects. The training also includes approaches to suspects with mental health conditions.

It authorizes a $500 million matching grant program to help police departments purchase body-worn cameras and the necessary technology and training to ensure their optimal use and conditions eligibility for this funding on criteria including usage at all times when an officer arrests or detains anyone. The JUSTICE ACT also would appropriate $500 million for duty-to-intervene training and directs the Attorney General to work with state and local governments, and police unions to develop training curriculums that discourage the use of excessive force.

Rep. Kim Visits Ocean County COVID Testing Site

Congressman Andy Kim (D-NJ) paid a visit to Ocean County’s central testing location and praised local efforts at containing the virus.

“The members of the Ocean County Health Department, and the men and women who have conducted testing and contact tracing have done incredible work,” said Congressman Kim. “Now we have to make sure they continue to have the resources needed to do their jobs keeping our communities safe. I’ll keep working with my colleagues in Congress, and our local leaders to make sure New Jersey can continue the great progress we’ve made in the past months.”

While the northern Ocean County was a hot spot in the pandemic’s earliest stage, infection and symptomatic cases have plummeted to very low levels for several weeks. On a statewide level, New Jersey, which once had one of the highest levels of cases and hospitalizations in the country, now has one of the slowest rates of new infections.

Though highly limited for more than a month after COVID’s outbreak in late March, testing is now widely available in the Lakewood area, though demand has clogged labs and caused delays in results. While many test for anti-bodies and infection at local laboratories, doctors’ offices, and urgent care centers, the county has maintained an official testing site at Ocean County Community College. The site is only for county residents who are experiencing COVID symptoms.

In his capacity as a member of the House of Representative’s committee on the virus, Rep. Kim has been an advocate for increased federal funding for testing and contact tracing in New Jersey.