Route 539 initiative aims to reduce fatalities
A multiagency initiative announced this week by Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato is aimed at educating drivers and raising safety awareness on a 38-mile stretch of the dangerous highway through Tuckerton, Little Egg Harbor, Stafford, Barnegat, Lacey, Manchester, Jackson and Plumsted.
"What we're looking to do is to post different law enforcement officers from the various towns along 539, so as to (have drivers) obey the speed limit and to pay more attention to their driving," Coronato said. "Within the last two years, the accidents and the death toll along that road have increased substantially, and it's important that my office coordinate with the local police departments to address this issue."
Coronato, local police chiefs, county officers and officials, the New Jersey State Police, and the Ocean County Road and Engineering Departments developed a planned response after holding extensive meetings to address the plague of crashes on Route 539. The plan of action includes three components: enforcement, engineering, and education. The enforcement initiative will run from Aug. 15 through Sept. 14, and message signs will be posted along the highway during that time.
"We're going to be looking to slow down the traffic, to make sure that the driver attention is appropriate, that the speed limit is certainly obeyed out there, and to make an awareness so that we can properly address through law enforcement the number of accidents that have taken place out there," Coronato said, adding that there have been more than 135 accidents on the county road over the past two years. "This is not a campaign just to write tickets. This is a campaign for people to be aware, and ultimately what we're trying to do is to save a life."
The engineering aspect of the initiative will include a review of the accidents and specific roadway dynamics, to determine possible safety improvements. The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders has crafted plans to make major safety upgrades to a 25-mile stretch of Route 539 from Little Egg Harbor to Plumsted in 2016. The project, estimated to cost $3.4 million, will be funded by the Federal Highway Administration's High Risk Rural Road program. Construction is expected to begin in the spring, according to the Board of Freeholders.
The improvements, as outlined from the board and its engineering staff, include:
- Rumble strips: Reduces center line crossover motor vehicle accidents often caused by sleepy motorists or those traveling at excessive speeds.
- Raised pavement markers: These markers are fairly common on roadways today and are designed to increase nighttime visibility. They are typically placed along the center lines of a roadway and reflect the light from a motor vehicle's headlights to outline the lanes of a highway in rural areas.
- All-weather reflective striping: Makes the lines on a roadway easier to see at night (like a cat's eyes), particularly in bad weather conditions.
- Radar-activated LED (light-emitting diode) chevron signs: These signs will be placed in clusters at curves and will light up in a synchronous pattern when a motor vehicle approaches, to outline the sharpness of the curve.
- High-friction road surface: This salmon-colored or reddish pavement is to be installed at six curves on Route 539. The road surface material used will be a thermo-setting polymer resin binder -- epoxy, modified polyester or urethane, according to the federal government. Basically, it prevents a vehicle from skidding when its driver attempts to stop suddenly from a high rate of speed.
The education element will include signage, media postings, radio public service announcements, awareness posters, and coordinated social media postings by all the partnering agencies, according to the prosecutor's office.