October 9, 2019

Fueling Station at PFARS Site Continues to Concern Residents

By Anne Levin

The fate of the fueling station located at the nearly completed new headquarters of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad (PFARS), at 2 Mt. Lucas Road, is still undecided.

Responding to neighboring residents’ complaints about the safety, aesthetics, noise, and other aspects of the station, which was moved from one side of the site to the other as part of the construction process, Princeton Council is considering whether to relocate it to one of three other sites, or keep it in place and make adjustments.

Cameras tracking traffic flow at sites identified by a subcommittee of the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) are in place, according to municipal engineer Deanna Stockton. But the data has not yet been posted for public viewing. Being considered are the parking lot of the municipal fleet service facility on Harrison Street, the area adjoining the Princeton Police Department parking lot across from the PFARS building, and a site at the Valley Road School property, owned by the Princeton Public Schools and currently used for school bus parking.

“Some of these sites also come with potential major challenges that can make them unfeasible,” Mayor Liz Lempert said this week. “After the traffic data is collected, my expectation is that we will have the data we need in order to make that determination.”

Numerous residents of Mt. Lucas Road, Terhune Road, Laurel Road, Turner Court, and other streets near the new PFARS headquarters voiced concerns at the most recent Council meeting on September 23. The most frequently voiced complaint was about increased traffic that makes walking and biking to Community Park School unsafe.

“Please listen to them and consider moving from this location,” said Laurel Road resident Dana Molina, referring to the recommendations made by the SPRAB subcommittee. “If you’re not going to move it, then make it smaller.”

A Turner Court resident said the traffic backups caused by closing off the section of Terhune Road between Mt. Lucas and Route 206 has resulted in dangerous conditions. “It was a horrible intersection before, but now it’s beyond horrible,” he said. Neighborhood resident Dayle Rounds commented, “It’s time for you all to admit mistakes and make it right. It’s too late to move the PFARS, but it’s not too late to move the fueling station.”

Others said they have stopped allowing their children to walk to school because of worries about safety. Lempert responded that the town’s engineering department is working on a redesign of the sidewalk to make it safe. “We are aware it’s a major problem with the cars coming down and overshooting the crosswalk,” she said.

Several residents said they want the canopy at the fueling station to be removed. Lempert said she promised to remove it, and will do so, but only when it is decided whether the station will stay in place or be relocated. “I understand that nobody likes to look at it, but we don’t want to rush and have to pay for another canopy later,” she said.

Getting approval from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) for traffic changes takes time, according to municipal administrator Marc Dashield. “We understand the frustrations,” he said. “When we go after their approval, they want traffic counts. That takes time.”

Lempert said this week that the NJDOT does not yet have an exact date for when they are going to do the striping at Cherry Hill Road. “We’ve impressed upon them how important it is,” she said. “They control it, because it touches 206, which is a state road.”

Three additional seconds of green time are to be added for Cherry Hill Road at the Route 206 traffic signal. The striping will mean that left-turning, straight, and right-turning vehicles are to have a separate lane. For inbound vehicles, the straight movements will be combined in the right turn lane instead of the left.

According to the municipal website, “Once the Cherry Hill traffic signal and lane changes are in place, Princeton will gather the current traffic data and resubmit a request for a new traffic signal at Valley Road/US Route 206. The municipality has been advocating for restoration of the left turn from Valley onto Route 206 for several years. Included in this new submission will be additional justification for NJDOT to deviate from their policy of prohibiting the construction of new traffic signals within 0.5 miles of an existing traffic signal.”

A police officer has been stationed at the intersection every weekday as children go to school and return home. “That was an unstaffed crossing prior to this, so that’s actually one of the improvements,” Lempert said. “We’re doing sidewalk improvement work and that should help the geometry. The way it is set up right now, cars are coming down the hill on Terhune and will often stop in the crosswalk. The realignment should help with the safety.”

The town’s Department of Public Works is reviewing the report from the SPRAB subcommittee. “We will either find a suitable alternate site, in which case we can take the next steps to relocate, or they will turn out to have problems greater than the current site,” said Lempert. “In that case we’ll resume the work of trying to mitigate the aesthetic impact of the facility. Lighting has been significantly reduced. The canopy would be moved, landscaping would be put in, and improvements would be finished on the wall that would screen the tank. That work has been suspended, because its not worth spending the money if we’re going to be moving it.”