Construction should begin in the coming weeks on the next 2.5 miles of the Barnegat Branch Trail, as the Ocean County Board of Freeholders is set to award the contract for that construction at this week's meeting.
The contract, to M.L. Ruberton Construction of Hammonton for "an amount not to exceed $985,696.81," according to the preliminary agenda released at Wednesday's pre-board meeting, is for Phase V of the trail.
That section runs from Bay Parkway in Waretown to just south of Lacey Road. A grant of $350,000 from the state Department of Transportation is helping to fund the project.
This section has been described by Freeholder James F. Lacey as the most difficult to design. That's due to challenges associated with crossing four bodies of water (the north and south branches of Oyster Creek, Middle Creek, and Cedar Lake), because of the need to work with Exelon Corp., owner of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, on passages near the plant, and because of multiple road crossings as well.
Once this phase is completed, it will create a 7-mile contiguous stretch of the linear park, from just south of Lacey Road (the trail will terminate at the parking lot of the United Methodist Church on Lacey Road) to the southern terminus in Barnegat.
Further north, the trail is slated to go from the northern side of Maryland Avenue in Berkeley (where the current Berkeley portion ends) through Beachwood, and, paralleling Route 166, into Toms River.
Other sections of the trail remain in the planning stages at this time. The most contested section is the portion from the southern edge of William J. Dudley Park in Berkeley, at Cedar Creek, to the north side of Lacey Road. That portion has been the subject of an ongoing battle between township officials, who want to build a road along the old rail bed, and groups fighting to keep the path limited to a recreational trail.