The ongoing Garden State Parkway improvement project between Toms River and Wall is meant to improve safety, but while the work is in progress, some Parkway commuters say they drive in fear every day.

Townsquare Media requested a comparison, from the New Jersey State Police, of accidents during two separate three-month periods, one before and one during the current construction cycle. The report found the following:

  • From December 2011 to February 2012, prior to construction starting in October 2012, there were 88 accidents between mileposts 82 and 98 of the Parkway.
  • Between December 2014 and Feb. 18 of this year, there were 113 accidents across the same area. Of the 88 crashes during the earlier time-frame, 83 of them happened through Feb. 18, 2012. There were no reported fatalities during either period.
Delays on the northbound Garden State Parkway near #83 in Toms River (NJ DOT)

The spike in accidents within the construction zone mirrored an increase on the full 172.4-mile length of the Parkway. Officials with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the Parkway, said one possible explanation could be that there were 12 ice and snow events from December 2011 to February 2012, while there were 32 such events from December 2014 through February 2015.

Turnpike Authority officials also provided information indicating that the 16-mile construction area has had fewer accidents since last December than either 16-mile, non-construction span immediately to the north or south.

Examining those two stretches further, and comparing the two time periods studied, there was no increase in the number of crashes from mileposts 66 to 82 between 2011-12 and 2014-15. However, in that timeframe, there were 93 more crashes between mileposts 98 and 114.

State Police Sgt. Jeff Flynn said it's important for motorists to slow down and adhere to reduced speed limits.

"I think that's one of the major contributing factors of the accidents in construction zones," Flynn said. "People are unfamiliar with the alternate traffic patterns, and the speed limits are in place to allow people to adjust to those alternate traffic patterns."

Matthew Simpson of Brick Township commutes to New York City and said he feels comfortable driving through the construction zone during the daylight hours, but has more difficulty navigating it in the dark, especially with ever-changing lane shifts.

"At nighttime it's not really well-lit unless they're working, and then they have those blinding spotlights shining in your face, and very narrow roads with cones on one side and a concrete barrier on the other," Simpson said.

Katie North of Middletown commutes to Toms River and also complained about the lack of lighting in the construction area during the evening rush.

"I get really upset during bad weather situations," she said. "There's no light, so when it's raining, all I see are the orange construction colors reflecting back up into my vision. So when it's raining or snowing, I really can't see, and I can't figure out what lane I'm in because you can't see the lines -- and it's so thin in one spot where if you even flinch, you're basically going to hit the car next to you."

The current construction zone is identified as the area of the Parkway with the highest crash rate, though fatalities seem to have gone down. There was an average of nine fatal crashes a year in a seven-year period before the project began, according to the Turnpike Authority, and there have been three fatal crashes in each of the two full years the project has been ongoing.