Route 1 has always been synonymous with traffic. Over the years the state Department of Transportation has sought to ease the backups by removing traffic lights, widening pieces of the highway, and crafting cut-offs to let traffic get off the road more easily.
The DOT’s latest idea to ease the traffic flow is to modify the jughandles at Harrison Street and Washington Road, thereby eliminating the ability to enter Princeton from the northbound side of the highway between Alexander Road and Scudders Mill Road. According to DOT spokesman Joe Dee, Washington Road (which features a quasi-circle at a traffic light) and Harrison Street (which features a jughandle at a traffic light) create backups that ripple along the road at peak hours. By altering the jughandles and changing the timing so that there are longer greens for Route 1 drivers, the back-ups will ease.
If you are on Washington Road heading toward Princeton, nothing will change except the duration of your red light (though by how much no one knows yet), Dee says. Motorists from Washington Road (Route 571) will still be able to make a left onto Route 1 South, a right onto Route 1 North, or go straight across into Princeton.
The changes only affect motorists on Route 1 North, who will either need to get into Princeton via Alexander Road or head north to Scudders Mill Road, where they will have to turn around, head south, and make a right onto Harrison Street at the Sunoco gas station. Dee says that the mouth of Harrison Street will be widened to accommodate the increase in southbound traffic.
Dee emphasized that the plans are in the idea stage only. There is no timeframe for when anything would happen, nor how long it would take to make the changes.
But the mayors of West Windsor, Princeton Borough and Township, Plainsboro, Lawrence, and South Brunswick want to make sure that efforts to improve Route 1 don’t create problems elsewhere. In response to the DOT’s plan, the mayors have signed a letter written by West Windsor’s Shing-Fu Hsueh to DOT commissioner James Simpson that requests further discussion between Simpson, the mayors, and representatives from Princeton University and the Princeton Healthcare Systems over what the coalition sees as significant points to consider.
One of the major concerns is how the changes will affect Princeton Hospital. Hsueh said that the coalition’s ideas include a signal system to warn motorists that emergency vehicles need to get through. The letter also references “traffic pre-emption devices” on the new ambulances. According to Dee, such devices are used on bus rapid transit, or BRT, systems to change traffic signals on the fly with transponders.
Hsueh said the coalition exists to present a regional case to the DOT, but he admits that the effort comes with a healthy dose of compromise. The current DOT ideas for this area of Route 1 have been scaled down dramatically since a decade ago when the department considered eliminating the traffic lights at Washington Road and Harrison Street and building an overpass exchange at Harrison, similar to that at Meadow Road.
But the bypass project was estimated at $190 million and when nothing materialized over the years, DOT finally pulled the funding for the project in 2008.
The DOT’s current plans run about $2 million, which Hsueh said is better than nothing. “Nobody’s going to get 100 percent what they want. That funding [for the bypass] is not coming back.”