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Area surrounding Route 24 and Columbia Turnpike in Morris County. (Source: New Jersey Department of Transportation.)

Roads project scuttled after Morris commissioners, mayor disagree

Lack of community support forces Sherrill to pull interchange from her transportation budget request

By David Wildstein, May 06 2021 8:14 pm

Morris County officials are blaming Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel for torpedoing a $10 million local roads  project to be funded by the federal government to alleviate traffic issues, but he says the plan wasn’t in the best interests of his community and refused to buckle to political pressure from the all-Republican Board of Commissioners.

Without universal community support, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) is not expected to submit the Route 24 and Columbia Turnpike interchange project for inclusion in an appropriation recommended by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

“The window of opportunity has since closed,” the Morris County Board of Commissioners said in a joint statement.  Regrettably, Morris Township refused to provide a letter of support last week that was crucial to our effort to secure federal aid through Congress.”

But Grayzel, the Democratic candidate against State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton), accused the county of moving the location of an exit ramp.

“This proposed solution impacts Morris Township residents from accessing their homes and has the potential to create a whole new ‘crossover traffic’ problem as cars coming off Columbia Turnpike will now need to cross two lanes on Park Avenue — in a very short distance — to access the newly proposed ramp to Route 24, Grayzel said.

During morning rush hour traffic, Grayzel said, the proposal “literally has the potential of completely blocking traffic on Park Avenue heading southbound from Columbia Turnpike.”

“The current proposal is a sub-optimal solution that likely will just cause new problems for our residents and any vehicle attempting to access Route 24 eastbound in the morning rush,” said Grayzel.

Without the prospect of federal funds, Morris County says corrective measures on the congested local roadway has been indefinitely delayed.

“The unique opportunity to secure that federal aid, specifically for preliminary engineering, design and right of way acquisition phases, was lost last week,” the commissioners said.

The commissioners praised Sherrill for her efforts, as well as local officials in Florham Park and Hanover.

The county lawmakers said that the project had the backing of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Morris County and all towns impacted by the congestion and accidents at the interchange.

“No objections were raised in the year since the NJDOT presented a preferred realignment plan in March 2020,” the commissioners said  “We all understood the design phases would provide every opportunity for everyone to express concerns and to recommend changes at future public hearings to the NJDOT preferred plan.”

Grayzel pushed back on the statement by the Republican commissioners.

“Morris Township prefers to find sensible solutions to the problems facing our communities, and feels that this modified proposal does not adequately provide relief for commuters on Park Avenue and the streets of our neighboring municipalities to the south,” he said.  “Morris Township continues to support a better-planned, long-term solution benefiting all the communities seeing the immediate impacts of these traffic problems rather than fast-tracking a modified plan that appears to benefit one party.”

Sherrill, who spent two years pushing the project as a transportation priority for the 11th district, is likely try again in the future.

“The Route 24 and Columbia Turnpike Interchange is a crucial issue for the residents of Morris County,” said Bryan Doherty, the congresswoman’s spokesman.  “Rep. Sherrill will continue to identify and advocate for federal opportunities to support this project in the future and work with the relevant stakeholders to find a path forward.”

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