Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the
September 26, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
For Route 1 Traffic, Some Progress, Lots of Process
David Parris grew up in and around Wichita, Kansas.
Sure, there are traffic problems in Kansas, he says, but they don’t
approach those now choking the streets near his Penns Neck home.
in the middle of the continent grew up with the automobile," he
says. That is not the case in central New Jersey, where, he points
out, we are still operating in part on a system of Colonial roads.
West Windsor, in which Penns Neck is located, was a town of 1,000
souls when Parris’ wife, the former Sue Connolly, a fifth generation
resident of Penns Neck, was growing up. As recently as 30 years ago,
when the couple were married, "Penns Neck was a quiet village.
There were no honking horns," Parris recalls. Now, Penns Neck
and the towns around it on both sides of Route 1 are home to 343,832
people, up from 114,842 in 1960.
"It’s difficult even to get out of the house," says Parris
of the current traffic situation. He has a Washington Road address,
but lives just off Washington Road on Fairview Avenue on the Sarnoff
side of the street. He is grateful not to have to back a car out onto
Washington Road, which as Route 571 draws traffic all the way from
the Turnpike in Hightstown to Princeton’s Nassau Street.
But Washington Road’s problems spill onto his street. Truckers,
by long delays at the Washington Road light, frequently try a shortcut
down Fairview. "We are always calling the police, telling them
the power lines have been pulled down," Parris says. "It’s
a regular event." Accidents are common also, as desperate
make a lunge out onto Washington Road at any break in traffic.
met a number of nice people who have waited in our house for the
says Parris of some of those involved in accidents on his doorstep.
Parris is one of 32 members of a roundtable assembled by Rutgers
Transportation Policy Institute at the request of the New Jersey
of Transportation. It is the roundtable’s job to come up with
to the multi-faceted problem of gridlock on Route 1, a problem the
Millstone Bypass was to have addressed. Jim Berzok, spokesman for
the DOT, says this is the first time his department has ever turned
to a roundtable or any similar mechanism. The group, which invites
wide participation from the public, is developing an all-encompassing
environmental impact statement for the Penns Neck area.
The issues here are about as convoluted as they get, ranging from
the stated desire of the Sarnoff Corporation, a revered corporate
citizen, to add 20 buildings to its complex to the preservation of
a scenic elm allee on the west side of Washington Road. The players
include Princeton University, a number of environmental groups, the
mayors of many of the towns touching Route 1 and the administrations
of Mercer and Middlesex counties, regional planning groups, and
coalitions. Parris, representing Penns Neck, falls into the latter
Trained as a geologist at Princeton University (Class
of 1972), he has spent his entire working life as a curator at the
New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. The son of an archeologist, he
had heard about the museum’s "very important geology and
collections" when he was growing up in Kansas, and was delighted
to accept a job there upon graduation. He and his wife spent the first
20 years of their marriage in Ewing, where he volunteered with that
township’s planning and environmental commissions. For the past 10
years, the family has made its home in his wife’s family homestead.
He has a book, published in 1890, that shows her family farming in
the area near the Millstone River where the Millstone Bypass, a
choice to relieve Route 1 traffic, would go.
Parris speaks of the time his oldest son, who suffers from autism,
had a seizure during the morning rush hour. "It staggered me,"
he says of the thought that an ambulance might not be able to make
it through. "The rescue squad sent a fire engine," he says.
"Effectively, they had to sweep the street of traffic."
A deliberate, reasonable-sounding man, Parris came oh-so-close to
what he believes to be the answer to his community’s traffic problem.
The Millstone Bypass nearly got the green light. The road would have
begun at Route 571 railroad bridge near Ellsworth’s liquor store and
proceeded through the Sarnoff property paralleling the Millstone
Then it would have crossed Route 1 at an overpass near Harrison Street
and turned south near the Delaware & Raritan Canal to eventually
with Washington Road near the Princeton border.
Last spring, an environmental assessment, the last step needed to
make the road a reality, was nearly complete when then Governor
Whitman, bowing to an increasingly loud chorus of dissent, decided
to proceed with an Environmental Impact Statement study, a much more
sweeping assessment project. The Millstone Bypass, which could have
been under construction by the spring of 2003, was put on hold. The
project had been on the drawing board since the early-1980s.
Traffic build-up in the area has been a sore point for much longer.
A study of the earliest minutes of the Chamber of Commerce of the
Princeton Area, formed in the 1950s, reveals gridlock gripes and shows
plans for a system of remote parking lots and shuttles to take workers
to their jobs. In the 1970s, anyone trying to make it to Route 1 from
Princeton in the afternoon knew to scoot out of town well before 4
p.m. The penalty for missing the cut-off was a long, long sit in
traffic. Streamlining traffic flow on Route 1 by removing lights in
the Princeton area has long been a DOT priority. During the past few
years, lights at Alexander Road and College Road East have come down,
and the light at Meadow Road will soon follow. Berzok, the DOT
says the Meadow Road overpass project is on schedule, and the overpass
will be finished and the light will be removed early in 2002.
The trio of lights in the Penns Neck area are proving to be more
to sweep out of the way. They are the lights at Washington Road, near
Parris’ home, and two just a little north, the lights at Fischer Place
and at Harrison Street. They slow traffic on Route 1, and cause
back-ups on feeder roads, many of them in residential areas. Penns
Neck, the town of West Windsor, the Sarnoff corporation, and Princeton
University say the Millstone Bypass is the answer.
"It sits on clean land," says Parris. "No buildings would
have to be condemned."
The Princetons, township and borough, after initially reacting
became alarmed at the prospect of the new road. Jean Mahoney, a
member who represents the Millstone Bypass Alert, a coalition of 22
groups, says that "when the Millstone Bypass was first discussed,
it was to be a small road. Then the Hightstown Bypass came, and 92
was under discussion. Our concern is that it would turn into 92 and
become a major east-west link that would drop Turnpike traffic in
"Twenty years ago," Mahoney says, "it was on the books
as just a squiggly line." The plan did not immediately ring alarm
bells with either the Princetons or with environmental groups, but
Mahoney now says, "Oh my goodness. What were we thinking?"
The official stance of the roundtable, and of the Rutgers Center for
Transportation Policy, is that the Millstone Bypass will not be
over any other plan. "We’re starting from the beginning," says
Martin Robins, director of the center. "We’re not using the
of the Millstone Bypass."
The center, Robins says, is one of just a handful of such institutions
in the country. "There is one at the Rudin Center at NYU,"
he says, "and one at San Jose." Most academic transportation
institutes deal with issues of engineering and computer modeling,
but these few work with policy issues. And apparently there is a need
for their expertise.
"It turns out there is plenty of work for us," says Robins.
Among the center’s projects are analyzing New Jersey Transit’s capital
budget, comparing train use in Europe with that in the United States
for Amtrak, and helping the DOT come up with a plan for state highways
such as Route 27 that act as Main Streets as they pass through
Robins is the first director of the center. A graduate of Princeton
University’s Woodrow Wilson School (Class of 1964), he earned a law
degree from Harvard and practiced law in the private sector before
joining the Attorney General’s office in the area of public
In 1975 he moved to the Department of Transportation, and began his
work on transportation policy.
Robins lives in Westfield, a town with a thriving center of stores
and restaurants. While that section of the state, about an hour north
of Princeton, is trafficy, he says the problems there are not as
as they are in central New Jersey. "Westfield does not have
new development around it," he says. "The degree of office
development is not as great."
"Westfield is much more like Princeton," he says. "It
has a shape. Princeton Borough does well on its own. It has a workable
downtown." West Windsor, however is a different animal. "It
is a very fast-growing community," he says. "It has become
a major office destination." The township has also boomed in terms
of homes and commercial activity. The area is not unique, he says,
but is "a leader in terms of developing edge city problems."
Those problems include traffic, and that is the issue Robins is
with resolving. Helping out is the Rutgers University Center for
and Conflict Resolution. That group fanned out into the communities
surrounding Route 1 in the Princeton area, spoke with those interested
in finding a traffic solution, and chose the members of the
which began meeting in the spring.
Mahoney, the delegate from Millstone Bypass Alert, says early meetings
— held approximately twice a month — have been devoted to
setting up procedures for proceeding, including some discussion of
the optimal shape for a meeting table. But now, she says, the
is getting down to the serious business of writing up all of the
to be considered.
Robins says these include north-south traffic, east-west
traffic, public transportation, pedestrian and bicycle access,
land issues, development expectations, telecommuting, office space
needs, historic buildings, natural resources, open space, and the
relationship between current traffic and future traffic.
"It is clear that the area is uniquely filled with all kinds of
resources," says Robins. An exaggeration that is not. From
birthplace of television, to the town of Princeton, which played an
important role in the birthplace of the nation, to the Baptist church
in Penns Neck, to the Princeton elms, to the waters of the Millstone
River, the area is full of treasures. The trove is exceeded only by
the number of passionate defenders of each jewel.
The Millstone Bypass, in its various incarnations, would have
some of these cherished icons and institutions. Alternatives would
Mahoney, a graduate of Mt. Holyoke who worked first as a chemist and
then as an administrator for Princeton University for 25 years, jumped
into the fray because of her love for the Princeton Elms. The trees,
running from Route 1 to Lake Carnegie along Washington Road, were
developed and planted by William Flemer, owner of Princeton Nurseries,
a nursery that was located where Windrows now sits. "He was in
France as an ambulance driver during World War I," she recounts.
"He noticed the allees with trees arching over roads. He saw how
they provided shade and a lovely vista."
At least some of the trees would have to be cut down to make way for
the Millstone Bypass. The trees are immune to Dutch Elm disease and
would be a loss, defenders say, because of their historic significance
and their scientific value. But, just as important, says Mahoney,
cutting them down would destroy the "grand entrance to
Mahoney’s passion for the trees pales against Parris’ feelings for
the Baptist church, cemetery, and historic buildings in Penns Neck,
which, over the years, have been X-ed out in drawings for proposed
roads, including early renditions of the Millstone Bypass.
"For years, we thought our village would be sacrificed for the
sake of others," Parris says. "In the early ’80s, someone
on the Princeton Regional Planning Board said the Baptist church was
"`just a shell of a church.’ It was a rallying moment," Parris
says. "The vast amount of excavation and construction would have
destroyed not only the church, but also the cemetery."
Many members of the community, his wife included, have relatives
in the cemetery. As for the church, a white structure that sits just
yards from Route 1, Parris says: "It’s a wonderful treasure. It’s
inclusive, multi-racial. People of all economic levels worship there.
"The church is a symbol of the community," says Parris, who
is not himself a member of the church. "It was devastating to
have it treated with such disdain."
The area surrounding the three traffic lights that are blamed for
holding up travel on Route 1 and backing up side streets all around
is home to all sorts of institutions. In addition to the elms and
the Baptist church, there is the Sarnoff Corporation. It is willing
to have the traffic-solution road go through its substantial campus,
as the Millstone Bypass was slated to do. Sarnoff, which uses its
world-class technological know how to, among other things, create
companies to develop new products, wants to greatly expand its campus.
A Millstone Bypass-like road would be a great help in getting new
employees into and out of the area smoothly.
Like many residents of Penns Neck and the entire West Windsor area,
Parris thinks Sarnoff should get what it wants. Decades ago, when
it was possible to cross Washington Road without risking life and
limb, many area residents walked to work at Sarnoff. Over the years,
the corporation has provided excellent jobs, and is considered a good
There is at least one member of the roundtable, however, who does
not think being a good corporate neighbor is enough to entitle Sarnoff
to get its way. George Hawkins, director of the Stony Brook-Millstone
Watershed Association, thinks the area cannot sustain many more office
buildings. We are at a crisis point, he says, choking on traffic,
much of it generated by office workers, some traveling great distances
to reach their desks.
Hawkins’ oldest child moved from pre-school to kindergarten this year.
In doing so, he exchanged a 9 a.m. start time for an 8 a.m. start
time. Living beyond the range of a school bus, the kindergartner
a ride with his dad.
"I’m dumbfounded. I’m just astounded by the traffic," says
Hawkins. A resident of Lawrence Township, he tries to bypass Carter
Road, Cold Soil Road, and Rosedale Lane on his daily run to Craven
Lane Elementary School. Rural roads wending past farms and homes set
back on generous lots were sleepy lanes not long ago. Now they are
gridlocked during rush hour.
Hawkins takes to even smaller roads as he ferries his child to school,
twisting and turning through residential areas in a mostly futile
attempt to escape the traffic. The same scene is played in Princeton,
Penns Neck, Pennington, and every other town in the area.
"The problem," says Hawkins, "is that infrastructure
are detached from decisions on how we use land. We make sure immediate
needs are looked at. We make sure roads are built, but we don’t look
at larger issues."
Hawkins, a graduate of Princeton University (Class of 1983) and of
Harvard Law School, has just completed his fourth year at Stony Brook.
On the roundtable, he will be pushing for alternative
plans. Plans that don’t call for more roads.
Hawkins’ office sits across the road from the parking
lots of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Hopewell facility. "I see lots
of Pennsylvania license plates," he says. He advocates shuttle
lots on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware for those workers. To
get even more cars off the roads, he says employers need to implement
incentive and disincentive plans aimed at boosting use of mass
car pools, and van pools.
"We think of parking as free, but it isn’t," Hawkins says.
Beyond the fact that corporations pay to erect and maintain parking
lots and garages, "there are environmental costs, and social
If employers charged workers to park, and at the same time gave
pay to those who used mass transit, there would be fewer cars on the
roads, he is convinced. "I never drive to New York City,"
he says. "It’s too expensive, so I take the train." Workers
who report to office parks could be encouraged to develop the same
mindset, he says.
As far as office parks go, Hawkins thinks there are just about enough
of them in the greater Princeton area. "Adding new jobs means
1. new houses or 2. more people drive in," he says. "We have
had a single-minded focus on adding more jobs in quantity, but at
some point we should say `Our commercial base is very good. We’re
about where we want to be.’"
Richard Barrett, who sits on the roundtable as a representative of
S.T.O.P. (Sensible Transportation Options Partnership), an
Bypass coalition, isn’t for ending all office construction — not
necessarily. But, like Hawkins, he says it is imperative that the
roundtable take the long view, and look at creative alternatives.
Barrett, an artist and Princeton resident who holds a fine arts degree
from Florida State (Class of 1974) and a master’s degree from the
University of Wisconsin at Madison, also maintains a studio in New
York City near the West Side Highway. He took part in the epic
battle surrounding that highway, and in the process picked up an
body of information about transportation policy. He says issues that
arose in the planning of the West Side Highway apply to Route 1. In
both cases, there are considerations of esthetics and access to the
natural resources, along with a need to move traffic efficiently.
Barrett says he is "dismayed" that so early in the roundtable
process there has been a report — from NJ Transit — that a
light rail system along Route 1 won’t be possible in the next 20 years
because there aren’t enough people to support it. "Put in mass
transit, then build around it," is his suggestion.
Putting in more roads is not the answer. "Roadways don’t relieve
congestion, they bring more traffic," he says," citing studies
that have estimated the Millstone Bypass would be clogged and obsolete
in five years. He points to the Newbury Bypass in Great Britain as
an example of a road similar to the Millstone Bypass. The road was
built as a way to move cars around villages, and was, he says, "a
big disaster," bringing in two times the previous amount of
Barrett is opposed to any road that would close Washington Road,
that as long ago as the mid-1980s, then mayor Barbara Sigmund stressed
it was vital to keep open all three of the roads leading into
— Washington Road, Harrison Street, and Alexander Road. Closing
Washington Road to through traffic, as the Millstone Bypass proposes
to do, would force one-third of the already-heavy traffic on those
entrance roads onto another road, most probably Harrison Street.
Getting rid of the three Penns Neck lights — the linchpin of DOT
planning — might not even be a good idea, Barrett says. Like
he points out that a major Route 1 bottleneck now is the entrance
to Route 95/295, site of monster backups every workday evening. There
is no light there, and the effect of "unmodulated" traffic
racing down to that spot could make a bad situation worse.
Barrett is among those who think the answer to the traffic jams on
Route 1 could be a tunnel beneath the highway at Washington Road.
While the Millstone Bypass plan often has pitted West Windsor and
the Princetons against one another, this plan could make Washington
Road a connector between the two. Barrett envisions a park atop the
tunnel, creating a new recreation resource for the area. There have
been suggestions that such a tunnel would be prohibitively expensive.
Parris, Penns Neck’s representative, has raised concerns that it could
interfere with the area’s watertable.
Barrett dismisses both concerns. His group has engaged engineers,
who have said the project is feasible. "Tunnels are being built
all over the country; one is being built in Trenton," he says.
"What are a few million more dollars?"
The solution to Route 1’s traffic woes, and those of the towns that
surround it, "call for a complete rethinking" of assumptions,
says Barrett. If creative, fresh thinking isn’t employed, the whole
roundtable will be "for naught."
Like many other members of the roundtable, Barrett sees the process
as "a challenge and an opportunity." While this could well
be good news for the region long term, it does little to help the
Parris family and their neighbors get out of their driveways any time
soon. Parris understands the process is necessary, and is willing
to be patient.
What he might not be as willing to accept is Hawkins’ assessment.
"It’s not just Penns Neck," he says. "It’s Harrison
Lawrenceville, Carter Road. It’s the whole area. It’s unlikely
we can get back to the way Penns Neck was 20 years ago."
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