When Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman and Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand approached Assemblyman Reed Gusciora to orchestrate a meeting of stakeholders to examine the potential traffic impact of the planned relocation of the University Medical Center at Princeton on the Penns Neck portion of Route 1, the hope was that the state Department of Transportation would offer a sympathetic ear.
While DOT listened, and was sympathetic, few concerns were immediately answered.
The prospect of the hospital's relocation to the FMC Corp. site in Plainsboro has raised concern for several area officials who worry that emergency vehicles traveling along Princeton's Route 1 exit roads Alexander Street, Washington Road, and Harrison Street will exacerbate existing rush hour bottleneck conditions.
Of particular concern is the logjam on a West Windsor portion of Harrison Street headed toward Route 1 that suffers during rush hour. While ambulances leaving Princeton will have several planned exit routes, it is likely that Harrison Street will be most used, as the proposed hospital will be located just north of where Harrison meets Route 1.
Princeton officials have envisioned creating a left-turn-only lane at the intersection of Harrison and Route 1 where emergency vehicles could conceivably bypass the bottleneck, but DOT Commissioner Kris Kolluri, citing the $400 million Penns Neck bypass improvement project that includes a $100 million price tag for a Harrison Street overpass, remained tentative in any immdiate solutions.
"We don't make funding decisions in a vacuum," Mr. Kolluri said, adding that installing a left turn signal now could make the $100 million overpass project "obsolete.
"We are looking at the corridor as a whole. Nobody wants to make a short-term investment," he said.
But both Princeton mayors, as well as West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, said a move now could preclude the need for more drastic measures in the future. "We're trying to be proactive here, rather than reactive," Ms. Marchand said. Ms. Trotman indicated the "severe need" for the ability for emergency vehicles to manage the intersection more effectively, floating the idea of creating a traffic signal that would be responsive to emergency lights. Mr. Kolluri seemed sympathetic to that idea.
That said, Mr. Hsueh and hospital officials were hopeful that certain measures could be taken before the hospital opens its doors to its new facility, which is slated to occur in mid-2010, according to Pam Hersh, vice president for government and community affairs for Princeton HealthCare System, the hospital's parent entity. Ms. Hersh said that access to Route 1 from Princeton is "problematic" in its current form. "The Penns Neck bypass will help, but we need help now," she said.
Mr. Hsueh took that idea further, saying that if the hospital were to move, DOT should consider moving the overpass project ahead of schedule. That project, Mr. Kolluri said, would not likely get underway until between 2010 and 2012. The commissioner also cited a five-year, $1.6 billion Transportation Trust Fund that allows DOT little breathing room. However, he did suggest that as Harrison Street is a county road, Mercer County could earmark a portion of its $2.4 million annual state allowance to build a temporary improvement to the intersection.
County Engineer Greg Sandusky said a reconfiguration of the intersection would be "somewhat tough" because of adjacent wetlands related to the Millstone River, the nearby Eden Institute, and a Sunoco service station.
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