Lots of Maneuvering in the Works Along Route 72 in Stafford

Oct 10, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy At the existing Route 72 jughandle leading to East Road in Stafford Township, workers have been clearing trees and debris since last week, in preparation for the upcoming interchange rework by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

If you’ve not driven on Route 72 in Stafford Township anytime during the past week or so, you may want to know that quite a few things are changing, quite quickly, and vehicular mayhem soon is on its way.

“I almost had people out on Route 72 to shut down whatever those crews were doing the other day,” said Stafford Township Administrator James Moran, referring to the day the New Jersey Department of Transportation began clearing trees in preparation for the upcoming interchange project at East Road. “From what I understood from the state’s project manager, they weren’t going to start that until after Chowderfest weekend, but I figured they still had to mobilize some things and it would be a week or two before they actually started any work. All of a sudden, right at the beginning of the week, they were there clearing trees. That was a bit of a surprise.”

But given the NJDOT’s notification on Sept. 7, it has been no surprise what exactly will be occurring on Route 72 during the next year. The entire interchange where the TD Bank and Exxon gas station are located, along with the jughandle opposite those properties, is going to change dramatically.

The $8.6-million, federally funded project is expected to provide highway and signal intersection improvements to address congestion and safety concerns, according to the DOT’s release. Improvements are scheduled to include the addition of a 10-foot shoulder in each direction on Route 72 between the Garden State Parkway and the Stafford Square Shopping Center, median widening and new barrier curbs, plus new traffic signals and roadway improvements at two Route 72 intersections – Roosevelt Boulevard and Doc Cramer Boulevard.

On Oct. 1, the state began clearing trees along Route 72 just to the west of KFC, as it prepared to create a new culvert and a revised jughandle circling a water basin from Route 72 westbound to a relocated East Road – slated to move approximately 200 feet east from its current location.

“The East Road project has been in the works for more than 14 years,” Moran said. “And now we’re seeing it finally getting done. The DOT is starting its work on the eastbound side, in the right-of-way, clearing trees and so forth, and now it should be continuous work through the end of next year.”

Additionally, two new stormwater basins will be constructed farther down on Route 72 westbound, and West Road will be relocated east from its current location between McDonald’s and Mr. Tire to a new location between Element restaurant and Starboard Plaza. Washington Road, located parallel to Route 72, will end at the new West Road.

What’s Coming, What’s Not
And What’s Going Where

Interestingly – or maybe not, depending on your level of interest in Facebook – the reaction by some Stafford residents to the tree clearings and such prompted renewed excitement for a Chick-fil-a and Panera Bread that have been proposed by the property owner of the land immediately west of the KFC. Buzz about those two businesses taking over that location started several years ago.

“People thought immediately that the clearing work the state was doing meant Panera Bread and Chick-fil-a are coming,” Moran said. “Well, that’s not the case – at least, not right now. They’re still pending. It just so happens that’s where the state is putting in the revised jughandle. Nobody’s building anything at that location yet.”

According to Moran, the property owner of those sites had submitted the plans to the Stafford Township Planning Board but they were deemed incomplete, still in need of a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permit and other documentation required to finalize the plans. Moran said the property owner is expected to return to the planning board on Oct. 17.

“The site originally was proposed for a Panera Bread and Chick-fil-a,” he said. “At this time, those are the only two things planned for that site.”

Of course, there’s continued buzz about other still-vacant properties in town. As reported recently, the building at the intersection of Nautilus Drive and Route 72 West soon will become a vascular and vein center that will house the medical practices of Drs. Jeffery Hager, Matthew Samra and Arthur DeMarsico.

On the eastbound side of the state highway, plenty remains in the works at this time. Specifically, many have wondered about the shopping plaza where the old Kmart used to be. Right now, Moran said, that’s still in flux.

“The original plan for that site was for Michael’s and TJ Maxx to move down to the Kmart building, with an Old Navy also going into that building and Burlington Coat Factory going where the Michael’s and TJ Maxx are located now,” he said. “That was the plan which got approval with the planning board last year. It might be changing; we’re not sure.”

According to Moran, the property owners of Manahawkin Commons – ACI Manahawkin LLC – were having issues with several tenants regarding the moves, that “the fit-outs weren’t quite what they wanted” and, to date, the original plan is being altered.

“The owners told us that their investment could go up by another 40 percent, and they’re saying that may not financially work out for them,” he said. “At that time, they didn’t have an alternate plan for the property, so they were going to explore their options. To this point, they haven’t given the planning board any new plans, but we’re hoping to hear from them soon.”

Across the road to the east, where ALDI set up shop two years ago, the site at which the former Sonic restaurant resided is scheduled for some revisions as the owner, Scarborough Properties, soon is expected to tear down the remains of the Sonic and build in its place a free-standing building, subdivided for three retailers. Those plans “are being finalized now,” Moran said.

At the site of the former Subway restaurant opposite TGI Friday’s, it had been posted to social media by the owners of Bubbakoos Burritos that it had plans to take over the property – which was happily shared by several on Facebook – but Moran said he hadn’t heard anything about it to date.

Farther down Route 72, on the westbound side to the east of Wawa near Jennings Road, the site of the former McDonald’s restaurant still awaits a new owner. Moran said several potential owners have viewed the property and one in particular “may be close to getting it,” but nothing had come forth as of Oct. 4.

“There’s definitely a lot going on,” he said. “And the hope is that some of the vacant sites start seeing some redevelopment sooner rather than later. We’re always interested in having our retail spaces filled.”

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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