Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 37
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
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Planners Weigh In on Bus Rapid Transit

Matthew Hersh

New Jersey Transit announced yesterday that the core element of its proposed Central Jersey Route 1 Bus Rapid Transit will include internal destinations such as Palmer Square, and possibly the Princeton Shopping Center.

The latest development in the plan that also includes building a designated roadway along the existing rail tracks of New Jersey Transit's Princeton Branch, better known as the Dinky, outlines what could one day anchor a comprehensive transit system throughout the Penns Neck portion of the Route 1 Corridor, according to New Jersey Transit representatives, who delivered their most recent findings on Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, Tuesday to members of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton's Master Plan Subcommittee.

The presentation was the latest in a series of municipal updates given since the BRT Alternatives Analysis Study was first released in February 2006. The $916,000 study, funded by New Jersey Transit, the Delaware Valley Planning Commission, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, and conducted by the Central Jersey Transportation Forum and the Federal Transit Administration, was launched in 2004, and by the time of its release, outlined a BRT that, in its most extensive form, would create a $600 to $700 million bus- and emergency vehicles-only roadway connecting key points along the Route 1 Penns Neck Corridor. In denser areas, like downtown Princeton Borough, a BRT vehicle would join regular street traffic patterns, making key stops at frequently used destinations.

It remains to be seen, however, if funding will even be available for the complete BRT vision, though New Jersey Transit has made clear that the so-called core element, focusing around the Dinky line, is a priority. In the meantime, NJ Transit is undergoing a public outreach phase, conducting focus groups, and assessing the feasibility of the Alternate Analysis report, according to William J. Carry, a New Jersey Transit planner who offered the agency's latest findings to Princeton planners Tuesday.

That initial phase will be followed by conceptual engineering, and then an examination of the environmental impact that includes the potential purchase of lands from municipalities and private property owners.

Transit was not clear as to when any system would be in place, but Mr. Carry referred to the "2015 plan" in looking at what can be implemented in the relative short term.

Jack Kanarek, New Jersey Transit's senior director of project development and planning, said that available funding for the project was "very constrained," though he added that he was encouraged by assurances from the Corzine administration and DOT. As for securing land, Mr. Kanarek was also guardedly optimistic: "Hopefully, we'll be able to see some funding available for acquiring land in strategic locations," he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with Simon Property Group, which manages Quakerbridge Mall, the Princeton HealthCare System, whose University Medical Center at Princeton is slated to relocate to the current FMC site in Plainsboro, and with the Princeton Forrestal Center.

DOT officials, including Commissioner Kris Kolluri, have called for a land use plan from area municipalities that would help facilitate a BRT.

Borough administrator Robert Bruschi said the funding would play a pivotal role in moving forward any discussion. "We can barely get funding to help subsidize a local jitney," he said, pointing to the Borough's own planned shuttle, now expected to be launched sometime in late 2008.

A handful of administrators from Princeton University, another major player in the BRT talks, were also present Tuesday. The University, which has significant land holdings in areas potentially impacted by a BRT along Route 1, is also hoping that a new BRT and Dinky station will play an integral role in the school's plan to develop the area around the current Dinky station into a proposed arts neighborhood.

A worry expressed by several members of the Planning Board was whether drivers would leave their cars at home in favor of a BRT: "We're not just doing this for the benefit of some developer, whether it's Quakerbridge, Princeton University, or Sarnoff," said Marvin Reed, chairman of the Master Plan Subcommittee. "We're really trying to come up with something that has some considerable community benefit."

Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand echoed Mr. Reed, saying that a successful BRT would be attained by way of making drivers "feel good about not using their cars.

"It's just changing the way people think about how they get to places," she said.

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