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Thursday, April 10, 2003

Rare and Endangered Species Finding Threatens to Delay Major County Highway Improvement

Plans to alleviate traffic congestion in Atlantic County by widening Wrangleboro-Pomona Road into a four lane highway may have encountered an unexpected delay. The requisite environmental study performed for the county by Parsons Brinkerhoff has identified six different rare and endangered species along both sides of the roadway, including the Elfin Butterfly.

According to County Executive Dennis Levinson, the findings are not insurmountable but do lengthen the time frame for the project and increase the costs. "This problem exemplifies how difficult and time consuming it can be to implement traffic improvements that otherwise seem simple and straightforward. We have programmed the widening of Wrangleboro-Pomona Road because of the serious need to improve highway safety and north-south access in Atlantic County. This is inherently a very costly and difficult project. Our plan is to accomplish it in phases. We had planned improvements to the intersection of Tilton and Pomona Roads, a major point of congestion, this year. Now it does not look as if it will happen in that time frame since the approval process just got much more complicated," Levinson said.

The county has submitted a development application to the Pinelands Commission and they appeared supportive of the need to improve safety along this roadway Levinson said. However, since land owned by the FAA Tech Center must be acquired, the finding of rare and endangered species will require further review with several federal environmental agencies. These agencies will then have to agree and coordinate their recommendations and mitigation strategies with state environmental agencies.

Despite these difficulties, the widening of Pomona-Wrangleboro Road into a major four lane highway remains a key priority of his administration, Levinson said. "I am and always have been concerned about environmental issues. My record on open space preservation shows that. However, the environmental concerns must be balanced with the needs of our residents to travel safely.

For more information contact Joe Maher, Department Head of Planning, at 645-5898

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