The state Department of Transportation (DOT) has no immediate plans to replace the Alexander Road bridge, despite recent attention to its shortcomings.
Officials note that as a result of the current DOT “pilot project”Кthat is restricting left turns and U-turns on Route 1 at Washington Road and Harrison Street in West Windsor, more motorists are using the bridge.К
In addition to weathering heavier traffic, the bridge, which is only 20 feet wide, cannot accommodate two large vehicles moving in opposite directions at the same time.К This becomes of particular concern when emergency vehicles, like ambulances and fire trucks, need to pass each other.КК The bridge’s weight-bearing capacity of 15 tons also poses significant limitations to the number and kinds of vehicles it can support at one time.
“That narrow bridge has been there a very long time,” said DOT spokesman Joe Dee on Tuesday. He suggested that area officials are “raising the issue in the context of this trial. Traffic is flowing very nicely on Route 1 as a result of these changes.
“Let’s continue to gather data,” he suggested. “This is still fairly new for a lot of people who were on vacation in August when this trial started.” More time, he said, will also allow motorists to become aware of alternatives to Alexander Road. “Motorists act out of self-interest, and if Alexander becomes inconvenient because of traffic volume, they will seek alternatives.”
The current Route 1 trial was created by the DOT in response to aКstudy along Route 1 indicating, they say, that the existing space for left/U-turns at Washington Road and the left/U-turns at the Harrison Street jug handle is inadequate to accommodate this traffic, resulting in traffic backing up onto Route 1 and impacting traffic operations along mainline Route 1.К The trial began on August 4 and was scheduled to continue for 12 weeks.
At a recent Township Committee meeting, engineer Bob Kiser reported that the need to replace the Alexander Road Bridge was recognized and reported to the county “two or three years and ago.” In a preliminary survey done in response to the request, Mercer County engineer Gregory Sandusky reported that the right of way at the bridge is only 36 feet wide; 50 to 60 feet would be needed to replace the bridge. Acquiring the additional land on either side of the current bridge will be difficult from a procedural point of view because the properties involved are designated “green” and “historic” districts. Obtaining State House approval, Mr. Kiser said, is “quite a process.” In the meantime, he reported, Mr Sandusky suggested going with plans for replacing bridge with the possibility that the municipality might acquire the right of way.
If NJDOT opts to finalize the trial arrangement, said Mr. Kiser, there will be more traffic going over bridge. The combination of eventually closing it in order to replace it, and maintaining the current limitations would be”setting ourselves up for a real situation,” he said.
Township Mayor Chad Goerner pointed out that the Alexander Road bridge was “meant to be temporary” when it was originally installed. In the past, the county defended the safety of the bridge by pointing to the fact that buses and other large vehicles have to stop to make sure there are no vehicles coming in the opposite direction.
At its meeting last week, Township Committee indicated that, if the trial is felt to be successful, they would ask the state to delay making the left turn bans on Route 1 permanent, until the Alexander Road bridge is replaced. They are hoping that the Borough, Princeton University, and other parties will support this recommendation in a cosigned letter.
“The University would be very inclined to join you,” said Princeton University spokesperson Kristen Appleget, who was present at the meeting. “We continue to join you in expressing concerns about the trials,” noting that the University is “taking in a lot of our own data.”
The municipalities will collect additional data, as well, said Deputy Mayor Liz Lempert, and she encouraged area motorists to use municipal websites to report trip times and bad commutes. “I don’t think the counters will be out there every day,” she said, referring to NJ DOT monitors.
“An inconvenience by having traffic back up is one factor,” observed Committeeman Bernie Miller. “Creating a situation that could put lives or property at risk is another. We need to make it clear to the DOT that we have a situation where an emergency vehicle could conceivably not get across the bridge, an unacceptable situation to both University and Princeton community.”