February 27, 2013

“No Dearth of Ideas” on DOT’s Route 1 Concept

A concept plan being floated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation to ease traffic congestion on Route 1 has residents from both sides of the highway eager to comment on its possibilities. “There is no dearth of ideas,” Anton Lahnston, chair of a committee exploring the plan, told Princeton Council on Monday night following a day of meetings with citizens of West Windsor in the morning, and Princeton in the evening, before the Council session.

“I’ve got about 40 or 41 points at this juncture,” Mr. Lahnston said. “If you live in Princeton, it’s one thing. If you live in West Windsor, it’s another.”

But the idea is to bring these communities together, along with Plainsboro and the University Medical Center of Princeton, to come up with a response to the plan, Mr. Lahnston and others involved in the meetings agree. Mayor Liz Lempert stressed at the Council session that the governing body will confer with West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh before preparing a response to the plan.

The concept was introduced early this month by the DOT, asking for feedback from Princeton, West Windsor, and Plainsboro before a decision is made on whether to proceed. There is no money for the project now, and it could cost up to $40 million.

The plan would involve widening the highway to four lanes in each direction between Harrison Street and Washington Road, eliminating the jughandles at both intersections, adding a traffic light and two jughandles for U-turns about halfway between the two roads, adding a new, circle-shaped jughandle at Washington Road at the now vacant site of a former Exxon gas station to allow drivers going south on Route 1 to cut across onto Route 571, and eliminating the light at Fisher Place. Motorists traveling north on the highway would take the new jughandle, travel south, and then turn right on -Washington Road in order to get into Princeton.

An overflow crowd packed a room at Princeton’s municipal building for a meeting of the Traffic and Transportation committee on Monday. Several of those in attendance stayed on to reiterate their concerns at the Council meeting, where Mr. Lahnston, who chairs the committee, delivered a report.

A DOT trial that closed the jughandles last August was scrapped earlier than originally planned after vociferous citizen protests. Residents attending the Monday meeting called that effort a waste of money, and some had their own ideas about how to help traffic flow better on Route 1. Eric Payne, a resident of West Windsor and a member of a citizens group called Smart Traffic Solutions, said there were four accidents in front of his house during the jughandle trial last year.

Mr. Payne has come up with his own plan for the highway. He said that an environmental impact study done in 2003 specifically recommended not to do what the concept plan suggests. “Let’s bite the bullet and get the problem fixed with an overpass, or if that isn’t possible, then by creating other access roads,” he said, adding that lights should be removed from Route 1, not added. “My plan eliminates all but one light, or at least gets it down to two.”

Josh Wilton, a real estate agent who works at Nassau and Harrison streets, recalled watching the surge in clogged traffic at that intersection from his window during the last DOT trial. He urged the committee to remember that Route 27 traffic is affected by Route 1. “Take into account that on a good day, it’s bad,” he said. During the last trial, it was “abysmal.”

At the Council session, member Jenny Crumiller asked why the DOT has not provided data on the traffic situation, specifically the recent trial that closed the jughandles last summer. Princeton engineer Bob Kiser said he thought data would be generated by the DOT if the communities express interest in developing the concept plan.

Councilman Patrick Simon commented that the traffic congestion improved on Route 1 during the trial last summer, but traffic getting on or off the highway and crossing the road was made worse.

In delivering his report about the earlier meeting, Mr. Lahnston said that people in Princeton and West Windsor have concerns about Route 1 traffic that go back decades. “We need more information from the DOT. We need to see traffic data,” he said. “We also need to put together a response to them saying yes, we want a seat at the table, but we need to partner with West Windsor and Princeton University and have everyone involved.”

Another public meeting on the issue will be held in West Windsor tonight at 7 p.m., at 271 Clarksville Road. Visit www.westwindsornj.org for more information.