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State Announces Plan For Penns Neck Without The 'Millstone Bypass'

Matthew Hersh

New Jersey's Department of Transportation all but wrote the epitaph to the former Millstone Bypass at a town meeting last Wednesday in West Windsor.

The proposed $65 million dollar road realignment, which has been in the works since the early 1980s, has been the subject of much consternation among municipalities and land owners along the Penns Neck portion of Route 1.

Its purpose has always been to facilitate Route 1 traffic flow, and the plan falls into the realm of DOT's long-term goal of removing all traffic lights on Route 1 between Trenton and New Brunswick. Its execution, however, remains at the center of the controversy.

The latest proposal entails an overhaul of the traffic light system along the area of Penns Neck and creates a Washington Road underpass at Route 1 and frontage roads on the north and south sides of the highway that travel between Washington Road and Harrison Street.

The most sweeping change is the DOT's omission of the "eastside connector," which would have linked Washington Road in West Windsor with Route 1 near Harrison Street via the Sarnoff Corp. property. The bypass would have travelled along the Millstone River.

The new DOT proposal removes traffic lights at Washington Road, Fisher Place, and Harrison Street at Route 1. Washington and Harrison would be connected to Route 1 by the frontage roads.

Under the plan, Harrison Street will end in a cul-de-sac just after crossing the Delaware & Raritan Canal. The DOT blueprint redirects drivers through 23 acres of Princeton University land along an access road toward Route 1.

Pam Hersh, director of the Office of Community and State Affairs at the University, said sacrificing land is a necessary measure for all parties involved. "There's potential for paralysis for this region and from a regional perspective, we're willing to give up land to try to make it work," she said.

But with DOT's new plan, all parties involved seem to be pleased =8B except West Windsor.

"Of course we are very disappointed," said West Windsor Township Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, who responded to the plan's lack of an eastside connector that would have effectively diverted traffic away from Washington Road, a residential area in West Windsor.

The DOT conceded that while an eastside connector would have been an effective solution to facilitate traffic flow, too many environmental factors were at play.

"Between disturbing the floodplains [of the MIllstone River], and endangered species, there were just too many environmental impacts that would have to be addressed," said DOT spokesperson Mike Horan.

Additionally, while Princeton Borough Mayor Joe O'Neil and several transit-improvement agencies, including the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association, agreed with the West Windsor Township official, they also hold that the environmental impacts of building a high-speed roadway along the river would prove disastrous for the area's ecology.

"I used to see the Millstone Bypass [plan] as destructive, but attempts have clearly been made to improve the [layout]," said Jeff Tuttle of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.

George Hawkins, executive director of the Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed Association, agreed. "[The DOT's plan] is a good solution, but it won't help if it's not built," he said.

Mr. Hawkins was referring to the $65 million pricetag for the roadway improvements, tentative DOT statements regarding the cost, and the state's commitment to staying true to its current plan.

DOT Assistant Commissioner Howard Zahn said that after utility and right-of-way costs are accounted for, the price of the project could balloon to $130 million, double the current estimate. Mr. Zahn also emphasized that the project is too big to be built at once. He announced a "phased" construction. He added that it's doubtful that any road improvements will occur within 10 years.

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