October 13, 2021

Council Approves NJDOT’s Intersection Plan

By Anne Levin

At a meeting Monday evening, Princeton Council voted in favor of a resolution that supports the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) plan to make the entrance to Witherspoon Street, from Nassau Street, 22 feet wide.

Council had originally planned for the entrance to be 13.5 feet wide, believing that the NJDOT was on board with that figure. But state officials have indicated otherwise, it was revealed at a special meeting of Council on the Witherspoon Street redesign project last Friday morning.

Had Council voted against accepting the NJDOT’s figure, the town would not be eligible for state funding for the project, which is estimated to cost about $1 million. Because Nassau Street is part of Route 27, which is a state road, the NJDOT has jurisdiction over anything that has an impact on its traffic.

Last March, Council passed a resolution supporting the NJDOT’s preliminary preferred alternative for reconstruction of the busy intersection and replacement of the traffic signal. At the special meeting last Friday, Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton told Council that municipal staff had submitted its design, with the 13.5-foot width, to the NJDOT in June, believing the agency was in acceptance of the figure.

“We worked with them. There was an assumption we were all on board with this,” she said. “We come to learn that in September, DOT had updated their preferred alternative to be a 22-foot-wide entrance. So that was a conundrum for us. We got a letter on September 23 from DOT saying this is now the preferred alternative, and there is a possibility of losing funding going forward.”

Stockton said the rationale behind the NJDOT’s figure of 22 feet is that anything lower would reduce truck access and not be safe.

An additional change by the NJDOT involves the kiosk at the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon streets. It was originally supposed to be removed and replaced with a traffic controller box. But the NJDOT was able to reduce the size of the box, which will be similar to

the one at Nassau Street and Bayard Lane. The kiosk will likely remain.  Stockton said the NJDOT is working with PSE&G to locate the controller box on the Princeton University side of Nassau Street.

To direct vehicles, bollards of a design to be determined will be added to Witherspoon Street, Stockton said at the earlier meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, Stockton asked Council for feedback on several aspects of the redesign of Witherspoon Street regarding stormwater management, whether there should be curbs, whether sidewalks should be raised, and green infrastructure. She also asked Council their impressions of talks given last month by nationally known urban planner Jeff Speck on how he thinks the town should move forward. Among his recommendations were pedestrianizing the street from Nassau Street to Paul Robeson Place, changing the way stormwater is collected, and making a left turn from Tulane Street onto Spring Street to allow access to the Spring Street Garage..

“We’re now in a position of going over decisions we’ve already made,” said Councilmember Eve Niedergang. “His presentation was exciting. He had some criticisms and some favorable comments, but a lot of things he would do differently we can’t because of space, and stuff underground. Let’s go with what we’ve already established. We’ve already settled a lot of these questions.”