October 17, 2012

Admitting Problems, DOT Ends “Experiment”

Two weeks short of the projected finish date, New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) officials responded to the growing chorus of complaints from motorists stuck on ancillary roads, and from area residents who feared for their children’s safety as more cars used their driveways to make U-turns to correct routes interrupted by jughandle closings.

NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson announced the end of the Route 1 “pilot project” in an early Saturday afternoon appearance on Washington Road (CR 571), where West Windsor residents had gathered to demonstrate their opposition to the program.

“I am announcing that NJDOT will end the trial program and restore all previous traffic movements within a week,” Mr. Simpson said. “We told local officials, residents, and other stakeholders in the Princetons, West Windsor, and Plainsboro that we would terminate the trial prior to its scheduled 12-week duration if we became convinced that unintended consequences could not be satisfactorily mitigated. We are making good on that promise today.”

“The DOT said they would cancel the trial if it was a disaster, and we’re all thankful Commissioner Simpson listened to the public outcry, kept his word, and pulled the plug,” said Township Deputy Mayor Liz Lempert.

“NJDOT crews will remove all barricades, barrels, and signage associated with the trial in the coming days,” reported DOT spokesperson Joe Dee. All traffic movements that were permitted prior to the trial will be restored, including right turns from Route 1 northbound onto Varsity Avenue and Fisher Place, and left turn movements from Route 1 southbound at Fisher Place and Washington Road.К

While the trial had reportedly eased traffic flow on Route 1, Mr. Simpson acknowledged the “unintended consequences” that had occurred as a result of eliminating left turns for Route 1 northbound motorists at Washington Road and Harrison Street.

“Unfortunately, the trial disrupted the Penns Neck neighborhood with additional traffic and created safety concerns. Our efforts to resolve those issues and guide motorists to the Scudders Mill interchange were unsuccessful,” Mr. Simpson said. “Increased congestion along Alexander Street in Princeton was also a concern.”

“We will be exploring value-engineered solutions involving a buildable project or projects to fight congestion in this corridor,” Mr. Simpson said. Mr. Dee concurred, noting that “the department will work with county and local governments, residents and other stake holders toward longer-term solutions to the traffic congestion along this stretch of Route 1.”

Elected officials who voiced opposition to the trial in recent weeks included the Mercer County Board of Freeholders, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, and Township Committeeman Bernie Miller. Ms. Lempert, who is the Democratic candidate for mayor of Princeton, was instrumental in mounting an online survey on the Township’s website, documenting motorists’ responses to the Route 1 trial.

In comments made after the decision to end the trial, Ms. Lempert acknowledged that “the Penns Neck citizens’ group deserves a lot of credit for organizing a successful protest.”

Her Republican opponent in the upcoming mayoral election, Richard Woodbridge, similarly noted that “it was really the West Windsor residents that caused the DOT to stop the experiment.

“We should have taken the lead there,” added Mr. Woodbridge. “We need to do a better job of getting ahead of these projects rather than reacting to them. It was such an obviously bad idea it should have never gotten off the ground in the first place.”

In a letter to Mr. Simpson written days after the cancellation, Township Mayor Chad Goerner had a different perspective. “As you know, our community was one of the first to actively voice concerns regarding the trial both in regional mayors’ meetings and also via a resolution expressing those concerns in 2011,” he wrote.

In the wake of the cancellation, Mr. Dee reported that elected officials, members of the business community, and others have “urged that a number of options be revisited, such as extending West Windsor’s Vaughn Drive to Washington Road, widening the Mercer County-owned bridge that spans the Delaware and Raritan Canal on Alexander Road and building an overpass near the intersection of Route 1 and Harrison Street.”