TRENTON, NJ-Acting Gov. Richard Codey has directed the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to begin engineering and design work that would lead to a major expansion of the superhighway in Middlesex, Mercer and Burlington counties. An initial price tag of $1.3 billion has been put on the project, which NJ DOT officials hope to have completed by 2011.

Codey’s plan would extend the separation of “car-only” and “car-truck” lanes from where they currently end near Exit 8A, south to Exit 6, a stretch of more than 20 miles. The region has, for a number of years, been a hotbed of big-box industrial development, and much of the congestion has been the result of truck traffic headed south from the Port of Newark/Elizabeth to warehouse/distribution destinations within the region, combined with the lane reduction after Exit 8A.

“Anyone who has traveled the Turnpike through the middle of New Jersey knows this treacherous merge,” Codey says. “It is one of the worst traffic spots in the state. If we don’t act, over the next several years we will have virtual gridlock.”

“I really applaud Acting Gov. Codey’s initiative,” Eugene Preston, SVP-development for the Rockefeller Group Development Corp., tells His company owns the Rockefeller Group FTZ/8A in Cranbury and Central Crossing Business Park at Exit 7. And in between, at Exit 7A, RGDC has a property under contract with a build-out capability of 2.5 million sf.

“It’s a road improvement that’s severely needed, and I hope that it can happen quickly,” Preston says. “With the amount of cargo and expected growth coming out of the port, it’s only going to get worse. We’re getting constrained in terms of places to build big-box warehouses, so the natural evolution would be to push further south along the Turnpike. The expansion is going to be important for the economy of the state.”

The initial engineering and design work, which is expected to take 18 months and cost $10 million, will be done by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s consulting engineers, Wilbur Smith Associates. State officials are also said to be studying financing options, although initial work will be funded by existing revenue, according to Codey.

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