2002-09-04 / Front Page
Towns at odds over widening of Rte. 520
Towns at odds over widening of Rte. 520
By elaine van develde
MIDDLETOWN — A proposal to widen Route 520 has pitted two towns against one another in a fight for each to preserve its own peaceful rural atmosphere amid suburban sprawl.
It’s all because Monmouth County wants to widen Route 520, a county road that extends from Red Bank through the Lincroft section of Middletown to Holmdel. Most of the road widening would be done in Lincroft, with some work extending to the border of Holmdel.
According to a report from the county, prepared by consulting firm Orth-Rodgers and Associates, one way to fix the traffic problems is to widen the road to as many as five lanes in some spots.
County officials are also trying to find ways to reduce automobile accidents and delays for motorists at traffic signals.
The report was met with opposition from the onset.
While changes to alleviate traffic problems are welcome by area residents, they say road widening is not the solution. They, instead, see it as hazardous, due to potential dangers driving from roads intersecting with Route 520.
There have been many municipal and county meetings, informational, official and unofficial, on the subject.
The Lincroft Village Green Association contingent in Middletown wants to preserve and restore Lincroft Village as a safe haven where "residents can walk, kids can ride bikes and an overall sense of community is shared by all," Winnie Scuteri, the group’s vice president, has said.
Roads intersecting Route 520 lead to other municipalities and one of those other towns is Tinton Falls.
Now Village Green members are pinning blame on the need for widening of 520 on Tinton Falls. Some say the Tinton Falls borough contributed so much to the problem that it should take care of it by funneling traffic through Tinton Falls instead of Lincroft.
Lincroft residents have voiced that contention at several meetings, most recently at the Aug. 22 Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders’ meeting in Red Bank.
The Lincroft group said an option, one of three, is for Tinton Falls to create a new exit to and from the Garden State Parkway near Tinton Avenue in the borough and build an overpass connecting Riverdale avenues east and west, separated years ago by the parkway’s construction.
The overpass would form a T, routing traffic through those roads to the Laurino Farm on Hance and Sycamore avenues through to Route 35.
"It’s time to look at a regional plan," said Lincroft resident Barbara Thorpe. "Another access road to Route 35 is needed."
Thorpe said Tinton Falls needs to take responsibility for its own over-development by offering this access.
"Propose something that benefits everyone and not just a few (Tinton Falls residents)," Thorpe said.
Thorpe, who lives on the Lincroft side of Swimming River Road, said her neighborhood is a quiet country road plagued with accidents and fatalities because of traffic coming in off of Route 520 through Tinton Falls.
Both Riverdale avenues abut the recently developed 150-acre Willowbrook Farms where 110 luxury single-family homes are being built.
Neighbors have said in the past the property’s development would be detrimental to the area.
While both sides concede traffic is bad on and in the area of Swimming River Road, off Route 520, neither town wants the traffic any change would bring.
When Tinton Falls Mayor Ann McNamara attended an Aug. 13 Lincroft Village Green Association meeting on the subject, she said she was inundated with the complaints of Lincroft residents who are blaming Tinton Falls for over-development. The Middletown residents asked the borough to take on rerouting roads to avoid Route 520 expansion and its extra traffic.
McNamara said the Tinton Falls roads would not be able to handle the traffic and her residents would oppose such a change.
"Yes, I was at the Lincroft Village meeting (Aug. 13) and I told them I could support the conservative parts of the plan, but could not support an entrance and an exit constructed at Riverdale Avenue East and Riverdale Avenue West — really less than a mile from exit 109 on the parkway. My statements were not well received by a couple (of Lincroft residents), but well received by others," McNamara said last week.
At the Aug. 22 Board of Freeholders’ meeting, Thorpe, who also attended the Aug. 13 meeting, continued to blame Tinton Falls officials for the problems on Swimming River Road and Route 520 because of the borough’s over-development.
"It’s accident alley and nobody cares," said Thorpe.
Riverdale Avenue West resident and Democratic freeholder candidate Jeffrey Pringle disagreed.
"You’re transferring the problem from Lincroft to Tinton Falls," said Pringle. "This is not just a Lincroft problem. You shouldn’t transfer the problem someplace else."
While Freeholder Director Harry Larrison said the issue was far from closed, he assured that residents’ input in any way was welcome as a means to get a better handle on the ultimate direction of the situation.
"This is far from over," he said. "We welcome letters and suggestions — working together. And don’t ever feel bad about coming to meetings. We gain, too."
Pringle accused the freeholders of blaming local officials with promoting suburban sprawl when instead they could fund local municipal acquisition of farms such as Willowbrook.
He said local open space funding is too limited to make the rate of sprawl decrease and it wasn’t the fault of the municipalities.
"We cannot raise enough taxes to purchase properties. We need the county’s help," said Pringle.
"Local officials are the ones who control sprawl," said Deputy Freeholder Director Thomas J. Powers.
In a minute of banter, Pringle accused Powers of casting blame. Powers and Larrison leveled the same accusation in return.
"Tinton Falls has an open space tax," said Larrison. "I know that particular piece of property (Willowbrook) you’re talking about. I think if a big effort was put forth by the town they could have stopped that (development)."
McNamara, a Democrat, said despite being asked by the borough for help, the county freeholders, all Republicans, did nothing to help the borough save the Willowbrook Farm tract.
Open space advocates have said they asked the county if help was solicited to purchase Willowbrook with the help of county funds and county officials said no. McNamara maintains that just isn’t true. She claims the borough asked and didn’t receive.