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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the

September 26, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

reserved.

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.

"Cities

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,

frustrated

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

motorists

make a lunge out onto Washington Road at any break in traffic.

"We’ve

met a number of nice people who have waited in our house for the

police,"

says Parris of some of those involved in accidents on his doorstep.

Parris is one of 32 members of a roundtable assembled by Rutgers

University’s

Transportation Policy Institute at the request of the New Jersey

Department

of Transportation. It is the roundtable’s job to come up with

solutions

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

neighborhood

coalitions. Parris, representing Penns Neck, falls into the latter

category.

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

paleontology

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

leading

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

River.

Then it would have crossed Route 1 at an overpass near Harrison Street

and turned south near the Delaware & Raritan Canal to eventually

intersect

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

Christie

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

stone-still

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

spokesman,

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

difficult

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

massive

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

complacently,

became alarmed at the prospect of the new road. Jean Mahoney, a

roundtable

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

Princeton.

"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

favored

over any other plan. "We’re starting from the beginning," says

Martin Robins, director of the center. "We’re not using the

template

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

commercial

areas.

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

transportation.

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

serious

as they are in central New Jersey. "Westfield does not have

massive

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

charged

with resolving. Helping out is the Rutgers University Center for

Negotiation

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

roundtable,

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

roundtable

is getting down to the serious business of writing up all of the

problems

to be considered.

Robins says these include north-south traffic, east-west

traffic, public transportation, pedestrian and bicycle access,

underlying

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

Sarnoff,

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

destroyed

some of these cherished icons and institutions. Alternatives would

hurt others.

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

Princeton."

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

buried

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

neighbor.

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

hitches

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

decisions

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

traffic-reduction

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

transit,

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

costs."

If employers charged workers to park, and at the same time gave

additional

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

anti-Millstone

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

planning

battle surrounding that highway, and in the process picked up an

impressive

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

traffic.

Barrett is opposed to any road that would close Washington Road,

recalling

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

Princeton

— 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

Hawkins,

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

Street,

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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