Drivers on the Garden State Parkway could be looking forward to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s shoulder widening project, however for a group of residents living adjacent to the Parkway, the expansion is a serious threat to their health, safety, and quality of life.

Residents of Todd Road in Toms River Township are at the frontlines of the issue, members of the hundred plus-home community attended the NJTA public hearing on March 15th in Brick asking to have some sort of wall or barrier be built to protect their property from the intruding parkway.

Natasha Martinez, resident of 1594 Todd Road and spokesperson for the neighborhood, has been trying to bring the issue to the attention of the NJTA and local officials, however without much success.

She says the issue is the Turnpike Authority is classifying the construction as a “restoration project” rather than a “widening project”.

“Because it’s worded that way they don’t actually need to put up a cement wall.” Claims Martinez.

Martinez says their neighborhood is in favor of the construction, having witnessed many of the accidents firsthand, however all they want is wall along Todd Road closes to the parkway (between exits 85-86).

She says some homes in that neighborhood are already only a few dozen feet from the parkway and the only protection they have from the constant noise and exhaust pollution is a small amount of trees, most of which will be cut for retention basins during construction.

“Those of us who live closest on Todd Road have had issues throughout the years, and have gotten much worse.” Says Martinez, adding “With motorists walking onto our properties getting into our houses. There are no fences there and now we are really concerned about the trees that are being taken down and nothing in the plans about erecting some kind of noise or exhaust barrier.”

Martinez says her house isn’t even one of the ones directly adjacent to the parkway but says “if you were to come over and we were to talk on my driveway we would have a really hard time hearing each other.” However she says for people whose backyard is butted up against the parkway, they can’t even use their backyard because of the noise level.

In addition to the troubles to residents, Martinez says joggers, cyclists and walkers regularly use the area as well; including runners from the Toms River High School Cross Country and Track teams- who are located nearby and use Todd Road as part of their training routes.

In fact, the lack of protection between the highway and residential neighborhood even presents a hazard to drivers notes Martinez. She explains that Todd Road has several curves which cause drivers headlights to shine directly onto oncoming parkway motorists. With even less trees after the construction, it will present more danger says Martinez.

“What is stopping a tractor trailer from plowing into our houses” worries Martinez.

For Martinez, the project doesn’t just create more intolerable living conditions; it traps her and many of the residents, many of whom purchased their homes over 25 years ago before major turnpike expansions began. With the depreciated real estate market already against them, Martinez says the construction and the proximity of the parkway to homes is making the property unsellable.

Martinez explains “originally my house was evaluated for 610,000. I did go for a tax appeal, I got it lowered to 510,000, so I pay taxes on 510,000 and I’ve been told I will be lucky if I can sell my house for 425 [thousand].”

To make matters worse property taxes remain high in the Township.

Martinez believes right now the most important thing they can do is have a letter writing campaign and let the Turnpike Authority know their concerns until the public comment period ends in May 14th. Preliminary activity is expected to be done in August and ground breaking begins in October.

She says the Turnpike Authority has spent millions researching how to protect the Pine Barren Tree Frog, anadromous pike and trout, the wood turtle, as well as migratory and song birds; however nothing has been the people who are taxpayers have been ignored.