Community Members Weigh In On Witherspoon Street Project
By Anne Levin
A virtual public meeting about the Witherspoon Street Improvement Project attracted a sizable online crowd on September 15, with many community members expressing opinions about the future of the roadway between Nassau and Green streets.
A portion of the street has been one-way in recent months to allow for outdoor dining and encourage the patronage of local businesses that have been suffering since the onset of COVID-19 in March. There are five options being considered for Witherspoon Street going forward.
One is to keep the street one-way northbound, as it is now, with one lane of loading and parking between Nassau and Spring streets. The option would consider pairing with the one-way southbound operation of South Tulane Street. A second alternative would be much the same as the first, but with two lanes of loading instead of one.
The third option would close the street completely to motor vehicles between Nassau and Spring streets, and consider pairing with the one-way westbound operation of Spring Street. The two other design alternatives would allow for two-way traffic — one with one lane of loading and parking; the other with two loading and parking lanes, as it was before the pandemic.
“It went both ways,” said Princeton Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton. “Some people favored a full closure. Others had big concerns about that and how it would affect the economic vitality of the downtown. So that’s what we’re needing to work through.”
Last week’s meeting was the second to be held on the project, and a third will be held at an October date to be determined. The project has several components, including sewer construction and traffic signal replacement. Members of the community have offered ideas having to do with landscaping; transit; way-finding; bicycle corrals, lockers, and shelters; street amenities; tree canopies; and more.
Plans are for a sanitary sewer construction project to be advertised for construction in November, with work to begin in January 2021. From Green Street to Franklin Avenue, design work on roadway, sanitary and storm sewer construction is scheduled to begin late next year, for construction in 2022/23. Traffic signal replacement by the New Jersey Department of Transportation is in limited concept development and will move into final design when that phase is complete.
Roadway and storm sewer improvements from Nassau to Green streets will be advertised for construction bids in April 2021. Construction is targeted to begin in June 2021.
Some discussion during the meeting focused on how to plan for a future that, thanks to the pandemic, remains unknown. “There were concerns raised about how much weight COVID plays in planning future improvements,” said Stockton. “Are we going to go back to 2018 and 2019, and will what happened in 2020 go away? How do you plan for the future from here? You have to be flexible.”
Stockton plans to hold a special stakeholder meeting with local businesses before holding the next public community gathering next month. A session with the Historic Preservation Commission is targeted for November.
“There is a big community discussion that needs to continue about the way Witherspoon Street plays in the community, as well as for businesses,” Stockton said. “And within the business community, there are differing needs. So that’s what we’re wrangling with now.”
A complete outline of the project is on the municipal website (princetonnj.gov). Members of the community area asked to rank the proposed concepts in a survey that is found on the site.