Safety no longer taking a backseat

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    BYRAM-In his eyes, it's the worst stretch of roadway in Byram. In 15 years on the township police force, Lt. Raymond Rafferty has seen its bends, its poor site lines. He's seen the motorists increase speed to pass a vehicle before the hazardous merge at the top of the hill. And while he's seen people walk away from accidents on the 1/2nmile stretch of Route 206, he's also seen too many people who didn't. In the past 30 years, Rafferty said there have been 33 traffic fatalities on Route 206 at Cat Swamp Mountain near Cranberry Lake and the Byram shopping plaza, the latest accident in 1999 left three dead. As the state Department of Transportation continues work this week on a $15 million project to make the dangerous roadway safer for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, Byram officials hope they've seen the worst Route 206 has to offer. "The results should be excellent," said Eskil "Skip" Danielson, the Byram mayor and longtime member of the township's emergency response services. "We've lost too many a life on that road. The curves are very difficult to negotiate. I can picture the accident very vividly." DOT officials said the project is designed to improve operations and safety by widening the roadway, extending the northbound climbing lane, reconstructing the horizontal and vertical curvatures, and removing rock face to facilitate sight distances. Crews have installed a construction barrier in the southbound shoulder of the roadway, behind which most of the current work is being performed. DOT officials said so far, traffic patterns, for the most part, have moved smoothly. "The hardest part is maintaining traffic," said Stan Romanowicz, DOT resident engineer on the project. "It would be so much easier to just shut a road down and do what we have to do. The only complaint we have is with people rubbernecking, which is normal for construction work. People just want to slow down and take a look at what's going on." Romanowicz said plans to construct a 10-foot shoulder on the northbound side of Route 206 near Tamarack Road are at a standstill until striking JCP&L workers return to relocate utility polls alongside the road. He said in the meantime, blasting away at rock will continue on a weekday basis n weather permitting n from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Scott Pederson, a project superintendent for the Ferreira Group of Branchburg, which DOT contracted to oversee construction, said crews have stopped traffic for no more than five minute intervals to detonate the explosives necessary for clearing rock from Byram's rugged landscape. "It's the nature of the beast," he said. "Everything is rock. We start digging and we hit rock. Until we remove the rock, we can't do anything." DOT officials said they take all precautions prior to detonating the 33-43 pounds of dynamite loaded in each hole within the rock. Romanowicz said there may be one, two or three blasts at a time depending on the proximity of the holes to traffic. "It sounds like a shotgun going off," said Jim Raperto, a DOT inspector and site technician. "It's as if someone took a firecracker and covered it with dirt and it pops just enough so that we can excavate. Sometimes you don't even hear it n it's like a thud." DOT spokesperson Mark Lavorgna said, once the two-year project is completed, the roadway will include one through lane, a climbing lane for slower vehicles such as trucks and buses, and a full shoulder lane on the northbound side; and one full shoulder lane and a through lane on the southbound side. Work in the second section of the area will be limited to mitigation of a high-hazard rock fall area, which includes a substantial rock outcrop hazard and a substandard berm in the northbound direction. Lavorgna said the project is also designed to be compatible to both future bicycle and pedestrian traffic. "It's a high volume area for us," said Lt. Rafferty. "Unfortunately, people speed through the zone, which makes it dangerous and allows the site obstructions to come into play. I