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I-295 Direct Connection Cleans Up One of New Jersey’s Most Congested Intersections

by: Larry Bernstein
When complete, the I-295 Direct Connection project in New Jersey will carry I-295 through an interchange on a three-lane northbound and three-lane southbound configuration, eliminating the need to exit and re-enter the roadway.
When complete, the I-295 Direct Connection project in New Jersey will carry I-295 through an interchange on a three-lane northbound and three-lane southbound configuration, eliminating the need to exit and re-enter the roadway.
One of the busiest interchanges in New Jersey is in the middle of a long-term construction project. Known as the I-295 Direct Connection project, the project will make commuting in Camden County – which borders the Delaware River and Philadelphia – much smoother.

Three roads – I-295, I-76, and Route 42 – come together and form an interchange, which is one of the most congested in the state of New Jersey. The average daily count on I-295 in 2018 was approximately 141,500 vehicles just north of the project area, and about 90,000 vehicles just south of the project area.

The current interchange does not provide a direct connection for I-295 through traffic. Motorists need to reduce speed in both directions of I-295 to safely negotiate the on-ramps. The slowdown adds to the congestion.

Besides slowdowns and congestion, the area also has a high rate of crashes, with segments above the statewide average. Upon completion of the I-295 Direct Connection project, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) anticipates a reduction in congestion and safety improvements due to eliminating several weaving motions.

A Four Contract Project
Because of the size and complexity of the project, it was divided into four construction contracts.

The first contract was awarded in February 2013 and completed in 2016. The key elements of that project included replacing two local road bridges over I-295 and Route 42 and starting work on four retaining walls. They are to be completed in subsequent contracts. In addition, a temporary ramp was constructed to eliminate the weave between Route 42 north and I-295 north traffic for the duration of construction, and a new ramp from I-295 north over Route 42 was built.

“These ramps have improved safety and allow for an easier flow of traffic, which has helped minimize congestion during construction,” says Steve Schapiro, Press Manager for NJDOT.

The second contract began in June 2014 and was completed in July 2019. The key construction element of this contract was the building of a five-lane covered roadway where two lanes of traffic coming from I-76 eastbound merge with three lanes of traffic from I-295 northbound. The covered roadway was opened in February 2019, and the existing traffic pattern will stay in this configuration until the entire project is complete.

In addition, a portion of the structure for the new I-295 bridge that will go over the ramp from I-76 east to I-295 north was completed as part of this contract. The remainder of the bridge is being built as part of the current contract.

The current contract began in April 2017 and is scheduled to take several more years. The key construction elements include completing the new bridge, which is the I-295 mainline direct connection over I-76/Route 42. Three additional bridges are being constructed in this contract as well:

  • The ramp from Route 42 northbound to I-295 northbound (which goes over Route 42 northbound)
  • A temporary bridge on Browning Road to maintain traffic while the permanent bridge is being replaced
  • A permanent bridge on Browning Road over Route 42/I-76, replacing the current bridge

The temporary bridge was constructed on adjacent land and moved into place in three stages.

Minor elements include installing retaining walls totaling more than 12,500 feet in length, 13,500 feet of noise walls, and multiple new sign structures.

The fourth and final contract will go out to bid after the current contract is complete. The key construction elements in the fourth contract are the completion of work along I-76/Route 42, I-295 northbound, the ramp from I-295 south to I-76 west, and the remainder of the ramp from I-295 south to I-76 east/Route 42 south.

To recap, the major elements of the project include constructing a new bridge, which is the I-295 mainline direct connection over I-76/Route 42, as well as improving several ramps and reconstructing multiple bridges over I-295 and Route 42. 

Construction Challenges
Anytime construction takes place in a highly populated or heavily traveled area, there are challenges. Both elements are present in this project.

Consider the three major highways. I-295 is a major north-south interstate in New Jersey that parallels I-95, which goes through Philadelphia, and I-76, which turns into NJ Route 42. This is the main highway between Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, including the Southern Jersey Shore. It’s a major commuter route that sees even higher volumes during the summer.

Due to the significant amount of traffic in the area, NJDOT is doing everything it can to minimize the impact of construction. “We are maintaining the same number of lanes throughout the life of the project because of the high traffic volume,” says Schapiro.

Another challenge is working in a very confined environment. Many of the bridges over the highways being reconstructed are in neighborhoods with residences and businesses, and there is a cemetery next to the project. These conditions result in tight work zones. The team is committed to minimizing disruption to the community.

Financing and Contractors
Each of the first three contracts has been awarded to different contractors. The contractors have worked with NJDOT in the past and were selected through a competitive bidding process. South State, Inc. is serving as the prime contractor for the current contract.

The I-295 Direct Connection project is 100 percent federally funded. Originally estimated at $900 million, the final tally is now expected to be higher. The extra funding is needed due to delays related to utilities, right-of-way acquisition, and revisions to some elements of the project such as the pier system for the new ramp that will carry Route 42 northbound to I-295 northbound.

When the I-295 Direct Connection project is finally completed, it will be the culmination of years of work and planning. Commuters, in this densely populated and highly traveled area, will have a more reliable route and face fewer safety issues.