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Penns Neck Road Alignment Awaited by the Eden Institute

Becky Melvin

The Eden Institute, a non-profit organization that provides a range of services for autistic children and adults, is locked in a struggle with Princeton University over an eight-year-old agreement that may never be realized.

The statement of mutual intent, which includes building new Eden facilities approximately 1,000 feet behind the current ones that border Route 1 south near Harrison Street, was forged in anticipation of the proposed Millstone Bypass.

Eden stood in the path of the Millstone Bypass road alignment, which met with strong opposition from environmental groups and others, but which continues to exist in similar form as the "B alternatives" in the Penns Neck Area Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The Millstone Bypass or the "B alternatives" have been eclipsed by other options that have garnered public support and which wouldn't require condemning Eden's property. But the new options would result in further infringement on Eden by heavy traffic noise and fumes, said David Holmes, Eden's president and executive director.

Eden, which has 50 children in its school-age program and 35 infants and toddlers in its birth to age 3 program, already endures the relentless pounding of more than 82,000 cars and trucks traveling each day on the portion of Route 1 that is outside its front doorstep, according to the executive summary of the Penns Neck Area draft EIS.

Eden was founded in 1975 with a mission to meet the lifespan needs of individuals with autism. It's a family oriented, multifaceted program including education, housing and work elements.

Eden contends that Princeton University is reneging on a partnership that was initiated by the university itself and which came to Eden at a cost in terms of planning and disturbances on its property.

"We have a written agreement with the University including plans for the school that the University would build," said William Noonan, a trustee of the board of Eden Institute and its former board chairman.

Mr. Noonan was referring to a letter dated May 7, 1996, and signed by Eugene McPartland, then Princeton University's vice president for facilities, and Dr. Holmes. The letter outlines a land-swap deal, which was subject to "New Jersey proceeding in a manner which requires the Eden Institute to move." Eden would move to 8.4 acres of University property located west of Logan Drive and the University would take Eden's one-acre parcel, which it would sell in due time to New Jersey's Department of Transportation.

The letter also refers to a sketch of a proposed new facility for Eden prepared by Lenaz, Mueller and Associates.

The letter was sent by Mr. McPartland's office and it requested the signature of Dr. Holmes. Pam Hersh, director of state and community affairs for Princeton University, said that the agreement was casual and depended on the final decision on the Penns Neck Area road configuration.

"If the road alignment required them to vacate, then we would help them relocate," Ms. Hersh said. "But we're not going to invest millions of dollars when we don't have to." The proposed building for Eden is estimated to cost between $5 million to $8 million. Mr. Noonan said, "We have alerted our trustees and parents to the possibility that the resolution to this long debate will be devastating to Eden. Everyone is concerned with environmental issues, but nobody seems concerned about people issues." He said children with autism are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment.

Dr. Holmes said that Eden Institute doesn't have enough money to finance a move on its own, and that Eden has appealed to the Rutgers University advisory group, working at the request of the DOT, against the D.2 option, which is gathering steam among environmental groups. He said Eden supports the A or B alternatives for the road alignment.

The D.2 alternative has Route 1 below grade, frontage roads with a diamond interchange between Harrison Street and Washington Road, and a Vaughn Drive connector to Alexander Road, but no east-side connector road.

The east-side connector is designed to eliminate Washington Road as a through street in West Windsor and funnel its traffic to Harrison Street.

The D.2 option meets the DOT's objectives of providing traffic congestion relief and removing three traffic signals on Route 1.

The B alternatives suggest Route 1 remain at grade and the traffic signals at Washington Road, Fisher Place, and Harrison Street be removed and replaced with a grade-separated loop interchange in the vicinity of Harrison Street. In this alternative, access across Route 1 at Washington Road would also be eliminated.

Unlike the A alternatives, the B alternatives do not include frontage roads between Harrison Street and Washington Road. Instead B and B.1 connect Harrison Street at Washington Road with a west-side connector road across Princeton University property, in the vicinity of the D & R Canal.

All A alternatives place Route 1 in a cut, and most provide frontage roads. All provide a new grade-separated interchange in the vicinity of Harrison Street, and an east-side connector road. The A alternatives, like many other plans, bring Vaughn Drive into the equation, extending that road north from its current terminus in the Princeton Junction train station parking lot to Washington Road in the vicinity of the Amtrak bridge in Princeton Junction.

"We're mad at this point," said Dr. Holmes. "We're like the proverbial bride left at the altar. We can't do anything. Nobody wants to buy property that is going to be condemned by the DOT, and we can't commit resources to our facilities if they're going to be torn down." He said the university has turned its back on a relationship that it worked hard to build for a long time when it was in its interest.

In regard to that relationship, he said Eden allowed the university to deposit tons of debris and rocks in the fields opposite its infants and toddler program with the understanding that the debris would be mostly topsoil and would be used later for the building of the bypass.

This dumping prevented the children at Eden from taking their daily walks, he said, and created dust, which on windy days covered the facilities, the cars of faculty and staff, and prevented the children from being outside.

"We were told these disturbances wouldn't be significant because we would be relocated within the year," he said.

The University's Ms. Hersh said, "Nothing has been decided. We don't have a road alignment. Years ago it was thought that such a road might be going through Eden Institute, and on that basis we would have been willing to move them."

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