In this busy lead-up to Christmas, the staff and congregation of Abundant Grace Church on Route 571 are preparing for their holiday celebrations. They are also preparing for the long-discussed construction of a mile-long access road in the vicinity of the church building that would directly connect Route 571 with exit 83 of the Garden State Parkway.
The plan involves extending Intermediate North Way between Route 9 and Route 571, and expanding the existing northbound exit and entrance ramps at the Parkway. New signals will be installed at Intermediate North Way and Route 571, where the connector road meets Route 9, and the Parkway.
Route 571 will also be widened between Route 9 and the connector road as part of plans to improve Interchange 83, according to Freeholder John P. Kelly. Currently, the area is preserved forest surrounded by condominiums on Route 571. Construction on the project recently began.
“Workers are currently cutting down trees across the street from the church (on Route 571),” said Reverend Anthony Storino, Pastor of Abundant Grace. “The connector road will direct traffic away from the church and hopefully alleviate some of the congestion that happens on 571.”
Additionally, projects approved by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority include the expansion and improvement of the exit and entrance ramps from the Parkway northbound at exit 83, with a signalized intersection where the exit ramp meets the new road. County officials have previously stated that motorists exiting Parkway northbound will be able to turn left to access Route 571 or right to travel south on Route 166.
“Originally in 2004, a plan was to put commuter parking on (nearby) Dugan Lane – that road has been owned by the state since the Garden State Parkway was created in the 1950s,” Storino explained.
The pastor was confident that the Parkway connector road would make it easier for his congregation to exit the church parking lot onto Route 571, and increase visibility of the church to passing motorists.
“In the long run, I think it will be better for us,” Storino commented, noting that while summertime traffic on Route 571 will always occur, though he hopes the connector road will relieve some of the regular congestion and backup that takes place at the intersection of Route 9 and Route 571, one of the county’s worst bottlenecks.
“Currently, it’s tough to make a left into our parking lot from 571,” Storino said.
Abundant Grace Church’s Youth Pastor Vincent Santoriello agreed with Storino’s assertion that the access road would help to decrease traffic and thereby increase the church’s visibility to the public.
“As far as our goals, our goal is to have as many people as possible come to the church,” Santoriello commented. “We think the new road will bring more people to stop in.”
Rev. Santoriello also noted the coincidence in timing of the new Shop Rite opening further down Route 9, and the work being done for the new access road.
“There is a lot of traffic on the road due to the new Shop Rite, and from the jug handle at Route 9 and Route 571, plus from the gas stations at that intersection also,” Santoriello said.
Santoriello also echoed Storino’s comments about the difficulty of exiting the parking lot after services, due to the common traffic congestion often found on Route 571 during that time.
“We have senior citizens in the congregation who don’t drive aggressively, and it can take them up to 5 minutes just to leave our parking lot, trying to turn onto 571,” Santoriello stated.
Don Bennett and Nicholas Loffredo contributed reporting to this story.