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By Michelle Durham and Robin Rieger

BELLMAWR, N.J. (CBS) — Local, state, and federal elected officials gathered today for a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction of what is being called the “direct connection” — a highway project that will allow drivers to continue along Interstate 295 without getting off, merging onto Route 42, then merging across a number of lanes of traffic before getting back onto the interstate.

But it will take time.  This is a nine-year, four-phase, $900-million project.

The first phase, costing $160 million, will begin right away.  It will build ten new bridges and 22 retaining walls, plus dynamic message signs to alert motorists to traffic issues.

“The first contract there will be some improvements,” explains NJ Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Dee.  “There will be less weaving movements on 42, so that will be a benefit, but the 295 direct connection will be in the third contract, toward the end of the decade.”

So, approximately one year from now there will be a new ramp connecting Route 42 north to I-295 north.   That ramp will be on the right.

The drainage system will be overhauled to address flooding on Market Street in Bellmawr.  The Creek Road and Bell Road bridges will also be replaced.

Bellmawr mayor Frank Filpak (at right in photo) says his town’s residents are eager to see the project completed.  Now, if there is an accident on Route 42 near I-295, all traffic dumps out onto Bellmawr local roads.  Once completed, motorists will have more highway options.

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