June 27, 2012

Route 1 Jughandle Trial Set to Begin in August And Last for 12 Weeks

The Route 1 jughandle trial postponed from last March is scheduled to begin on August 6, it was confirmed this week. James Simpson, State Department of Transportation Commissioner, said at a meeting of the Central Jersey Transportation Forum on Monday that the project, an experiment that will block off the Route 1 jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street, will last about 12 weeks unless it there are early indications of its ineffectiveness. The goal of the experiment is to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion.

Members of the Princeton Merchants Association, who met with transportation department officials last February to express their concerns about the project’s impact on local business, plan to hold a special meeting tomorrow, June 28, to make sure they are prepared for any changes the trial might bring.

“We’re going to reconvene and strategize on how we can monitor and assist with management from the business community,” said Kevin Wilkes, a member of Borough Council and architect at Princeton Design Guild. “I’m eagerly anxious to see what happens with this. Everyone is full of predictions. The test, from everything I hear, is going to be well managed.”

The project’s announcement last February drew protests from area residents as well as business owners. Among their worries was the possible increase in traffic after the May opening of the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, which is located just north of Harrison Street on Route 1. Officials stressed that while they understood concerns, the traffic problems needed to be addressed. To allow for the opening of the hospital, the DOT agreed to put off the experiment until August.

“I certainly haven’t heard any complaints about hospital traffic since it opened,” said David Newton, of Palmer Square Management. Mr. Newton was among those most concerned about the impact of the jughandle trial last spring. He is cautiously optimistic that the project will not cause problems.

“We will have to wait and see until the trial commences,” he said. “We did have an understanding with the DOT that they will monitor the situation carefully, and they demonstrated their ability to work with us since the hospital moved. Like everything else, one has to be positive on these things. If it’s the wrong thing, knowing Princeton there will be a huge chorus and outcry. And if it’s the right thing, nobody will be nice enough to tell them that.”

Drivers going north on Route 1 during the trial will no longer be able to make a U-turn or a left turn into Princeton using the jughandles. Alternatively, they will need to turn off at Alexander Road or proceed north to Scudders Mill Road and double back. Motorists will also be prevented from turning right onto Varsity Avenue so that the street is not used as a shortcut. U-turns, but not left turns, will be allowed on Fisher Place.

Temporary barriers will be used to put the project in place. The DOT is collecting traffic volume information throughout the Borough and Township, as well as in West Windsor and Plainsboro prior to and during the trial period. Traffic data is also being measured by Princeton University.

Officials at the DOT said that if the restrictions do not reduce congestion, or make the traffic worse, the trial will be terminated. For details and diagrams of the changes that will be made under the trial, go to www.nj.gov/transportation” and click on the blue button near the top of the page labeled “NJcommuter.com and select “Construction Updates” from the drop-down menu and click on “Route 1 Pilot Project.”