February 20, 2013

DOT Presents Concept to Ease Route 1 Congestion

When Princeton Council’s Traffic and Transportation Committee meets next Monday to discuss the latest concept that the New Jersey Department of Transportation has released regarding traffic woes on Route 1, one issue is certain to take priority: Making it easier to get into town.

“We would like to see reasonable access to Princeton from the three major roadways С Washington Road, Harrison Street, and Alexander Road,” says Anton Lahnston, who chairs the committee. “So we would hope that any reconfiguration would allow the community to be served in that way.”

The committee’s meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at 5:30 on February 25, preceding the Council’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Municipal building. On hand will be representatives from Princeton’s engineering and police departments, as well as a liaison from Princeton University.

The DOT released its concept early this month at a meeting attended by Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, who asked Mr. Lahnston to consider the proposal at a Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting. The concept comes several months after a failed experiment last summer to reconfigure traffic on Route 1, which involved closing the jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street. The trial was discontinued after residents of the Penns Neck section across Route 1 complained about a heavy influx of traffic, and commuters entering their neighborhood to make turns and avoid traffic delays.

Among the ideas being floated by the DOT are widening Route 1 to four lanes in both directions, eliminating the jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street, eliminating the jughandle and traffic light at Fisher Place, building new jughandles on both sides of Route 1 about halfway between Washington Road and Harrison Street, and constructing a partial traffic circle and light at Route 1 and Washington Road. That would allow motorists going south to turn left onto Route 571 toward the Princeton Junction railroad station.

Joseph Dee, spokesman for the DOT, stressed last week that the concept being considered is just that: a concept.

“When the commissioner pulled the plug on the pilot program last year, he made a commitment to continue to work with the communities to find a solution to chronic congestion along this corridor,” he said. “This proposal, which is just a concept that we shared with local officials, was an effort to focus discussions on an idea that we put together as a way to help alleviate congestion. The point was to say, take a look, let us talk you through it, then take it back to your residents and see what the sense is.”

As proposed, the improvements would cost roughly $35 million and handle anticipated traffic volumes for 20 years, Mr. Dee added. “This is a starting point for a conversation. We’ll see what the feedback is from Princeton, West Windsor, and Plainsboro, as well as from Princeton University and the hospital,” he said. “We’ll see if they like it or dislike it, or maybe have some good suggestions. It is not a plan or a project being designed, funded, or in engineering.”

Mr. Lahnston said he hopes the Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting will result in a report of some sort for Council. “My sense is that we’re probably going to come back to the Council with not so much an opinion on ‘yes or no, we support this,’ but as we see the advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “We’ve been closely involved in all of this over the past year, and we have the jughandle trial fresh in our minds. We’re relying heavily on our engineers to give us advice.”

One idea proposed in the past has been to build an overpass, but that is prohibitively expensive. “There is a big concern about the expense of this whole thing,” Mr. Lahnston said. “This concept seems to be something the state could afford, and that is an important factor.”