Tunnels Planned for Critters to Cross the Parkway Safely

How will the snakes, frogs and salamanders cross the Garden State Parkway?

Through tunnels. If they can find them.

As part of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's $135 million plan to widen the highway from two lanes to three between Toms River and Manahawkin, it has set aside $9 million to build tunnels that would allow various critters to cross the highway without the danger of being hit by traffic.

The tunnels are intended to help timber rattlesnakes, northern pine snakes, Pine Barrens tree frogs, Cope's gray tree frogs and eastern tiger salamanders, all critters whose habitat would be disturbed by the widening. All the animals are on federal or state threatened or endangered species lists.

Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, an advocacy group, says the tunnels are worth trying. "But we're skeptical about whether the passages will work in these circumstances," he told the Star-Ledger of Newark for Wednesday's newspapers.

It might be hard to get the animals to the 36-inch concrete reinforced pipes, or to cross them if the passages are too long and dark.

The Turnpike Authority believes the Department of Environmental Protection will require the tunnels, though the DEP says it has not decided yet.