By Donald Wittkowski
While he was still an engineering student at Villanova University, Jack Gibson took a job as a laborer with a construction company that was helping to build an interchange on what was then the brand new Garden State Parkway in the 1950s.
The Exit 17 interchange provided a new link between the Parkway and the beach community of Sea Isle City, then a much quieter town than the bustling summer vacation haven that it is now, Gibson recalled.
Gibson went on to earn his engineering degree at Villanova, and some 60 years later became a Sea Isle councilman. But one thing really hasn’t changed since the 1950s: Exit 17.
Gibson, now 83, believes it is time for the modest, two-way interchange to be converted into a full-fledged, four-way interchange capable of handling Sea Isle’s growing traffic demands.
“Sea Isle has grown since the interchange was first constructed in 1955,” Gibson said. “At that time, perhaps it was sufficient to handle the traffic. But now, traffic gets backed up at Route 9 and Sea Isle Boulevard and it becomes too congested.”
At Gibson’s suggestion, Sea Isle’s five-member City Council is expected to approve a resolution calling on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the Parkway’s state operating agency, to expand Exit 17 into a four-way interchange.
“We need this additional capacity to spread traffic out and improve safety,” Gibson explained.
Councilman Frank Edwardi said Sea Isle is one of only a few seashore towns that are still served by a two-way interchange with the Parkway.
The Parkway interchange serving Sea Isle is split into two parts. Exit 17 siphons southbound traffic off the Parkway and merges with Sea Isle Boulevard, the main entryway into town. For motorists wanting to access the Parkway northbound, they must follow Sea Isle Boulevard out of town and then hop on a separate on-ramp.
Over the years, Sea Isle officials have been frustrated that there is no direct exit to the town off the Parkway’s northbound side. Sea Isle lacks on off-ramp northbound at Exit 17.
To access Sea Isle off the Parkway’s northbound side, motorists must take Exit 13 into neighboring Avalon and then crawl along local roads. The trip through Avalon eventually leads to the Townsends Inlet Bridge, crossing over into Sea Isle’s southern tip.
One shortcut that is known by local motorists is to drive a little farther north on the Parkway and then make a U-turn at the nearby Ocean View service plaza. That gives them access to the Parkway’s southbound lanes and the Exit 17 off-ramp to Sea Isle.
Gibson, who is a civil engineer, said there is enough surrounding land, as well as an existing bridge, to convert Exit 17 into a four-way interchange that would create full access southbound and northbound between the Parkway and Sea Isle.
More land for the proposed project recently opened up when South Jersey Gas Co. moved its regulator station from the foot of Exit 17 to another spot on Sea Isle Boulevard about two miles down the road near the Minmar Marine boating complex, he noted.
“That makes it more feasible to have that particular ramp,” Gibson said, referring to the additional land needed for expanding Exit 17.