I decided to drive over to the "in-progress" review of the Millstone Bypass the other night, but at the last minute — as I was walking across the parking lot to my car — I changed my mind.
What the heck, I thought, as I realized that the conference center of the New Jersey Hospital Association on Alexander Road is literally right next door to our office at 12 Roszel Road, why don’t I just walk?
So I did. Down the driveway from our parking lot (with an eye and ear alert for cars zooming in or out), out to the sidewalk on Roszel Road, 50 yards or so up to the Roszel Road entrance to the NJHA parking lot (stepping up the pace here to lessen the chance of being smacked by a motorist rushing in to make the 7 p.m. presentation by the Voorhees Transportation Policy Institute of Rutgers, the group charged by the state DOT with developing the Environmental Impact Statement that is now being reviewed), and then across the several acres of parking to the entrance of the conference center.
Breathing a little more quickly than the typical motorist ambling in from outside, I felt the need to explain myself to the people at the sign-in desk: "I actually walked here," I announced, "and I’m probably the only person in the group who did."
"You walked?" one of the planners asked. "Well you might not ever walk again after we get done."
The sign-in group looked dumbfounded. I was at a loss for words myself. "I’m kidding," the man finally said.
He sure was. From one "preferred alignment" for this Route 1 bypass just two years ago, the planners — a group of 32 people from private, public, and non-profit organizations who met 24 times — have come up with no fewer than 18 possible schemes for improving the traffic flow in the area of Route 1, Washington Road, and Harrison Street. And on most of them a lane would be set aside for bicyclists and — presumably — pedestrians.
So what about those 18 schemes? As even Jon Carnegie of the Voorhees Institute conceded in his presentation to a group of about 50 people on Monday, September 30, "18 alternatives is quite a bit." Wisely the planners bundled them into seven groups.
To me the various scenarios reminded me of a heartbeat in time when I left journalism to try my hand at an environmental planning firm. The firm occasionally summoned its staff together for "imagineering" sessions, when anyone could offer solutions to a given problem and the only ground rules were that all proposals had to be considered and no one could discount any proposal by simply saying "that’s stupid," or "it will never work."
Some of the 18 schemes for Route 1 looked like they came straight out of an imagineering session. But if money were no object (and with highway projects it hardly ever is), I would implement the best parts of each scheme: We would have Route 1 dug out between Alexander Road and Harrison Street, allowing traffic on Washington Road and Fisher Place to cruise above.
The Harrison Street light would be replaced by a cloverleaf connecting to a bypass road leading to Route 571 near the present railroad bridge. That would tie in with an extended Vaughn Drive connecting to Alexander Road. On the other side of Route 1 that bypass would connect with Harrison Street, Washington Road, and then onto Alexander Road.
Two years ago I was one of the supporters of the "preferred alignment" proposed by the DOT — my only concern was that the bypass not be used an opportunity to close off Washington Road. That road, I argued, had to at least remain open to right turns in and out from Route 1 South. Otherwise too much traffic would be funneled onto little Harrison Street in Princeton. Not a good idea.
Now I for one am glad that the opposition has forced the reexamination. The concern now is whether or not the DOT will buy some of those extras that seem so appealing.
It has happened in the past. Around 1990, when our office was at Mapleton Road and Route 1, the DOT was planning (or presenting its plan) for the new Scudders Mill Road overpass. What was alarming to me and my landlord, architect Jerry Ford of Short and Ford, was that the partial overpass permitted no U-turn for traffic on Route 1 north to get back to Mapleton Road. The DOT proposed that such traffic exit on Plainsboro Road, go a half mile or so to a new connector road, go another half mile or so to Scudders Mill, stop at a red light, and then come back to Route 1 South via Scudders Mill — a nice little detour.
Jerry Ford and I both spoke out at a public hearing: What about a little entrance ramp that would allow Route 1 northbound traffic to get back up onto Scudders Mill right at the overpass? It will never work, they said. There was simply not enough room.
But when the overpass was done that little ramp was included, and it’s still working today. If we had to do it again, we would ask for the ramp — plus a bike path.