The Route 9 bottleneck through Toms River and Lakewood Townships is the focus of year-long study now underway by local, county and state officials. 

Route 9 in Toms River, Townsquare Media

The first meeting of a series of monthly conferences that will take place to create a Highway Access Management Plan for Route 9 was held in Toms River last week in the Ocean County Administration Building downtown.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is overseeing the study, being funded by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA).

Robert J. Chankalian, Toms River Township Engineer, said although the study is open to all ideas, they're focusing on low-cost, high-impact improvements to Route 9.

"Such as re-striping, maybe center, left-hand turn lanes, all the way to limiting access for development, trying to encourage interconnections between different strip malls so you wouldn't have to go out on the highway, you could go from mall to mall, or shopping center to shopping center, all the way to ultimately probably property acquisition to widen the road and add lanes," said Chankalian.

Chankalian noted everyone involved in the study is concerned about ongoing development in Lakewood and being able to increase the capacity of Route 9.

"It doesn't support what we have now, and as people develop their properties, it's only going to get worse. Everybody understands that there's definitely a need to increase the capacity of the roadway," Chankalian said.

Although the ultimate plan will include all ideas, such as sidewalks, bicycle lanes, additional lanes, etc., Chankalian pointed out that's a Herculean effort and a cost.

He has suggested having a parallel path of low-cost, high-impact solutions for Route 9, which has wide shoulders, but only one-lane in each direction.

"If somebody is making a left-hand turn, it literally stops the road. If we could narrow the shoulders, which does have a detrimental effect to drainage and certain things, but if we had a left hand turn lane and a person making a left is in that lane, traffic keeps on flowing," Chankalian pointed out, adding "that's paint as opposed to property acquisition and construction."

The study involves about a six-mile stretch of Route 9 from Indian Hill Road in Toms River to Rout 88 in Lakewood, according to Chankalian.

The NJTPA and NJDOT have retained a consultant, but Chankalian says input from the municipal and county engineers, planners will be considered.

Chankalian said once more information is compiled from the study, public comment meetings will take place. No dates have been scheduled yet.