Reports that Route 1 will close for a month while the state Department of Transportation conducts traffic flow studies might just be jumping the gun. According to DOT spokesman Joe Dee, the department’s plan to eliminate the jughandles at Harrison Street and Washington Road as a way to ease congestion on the highway eventually will be tested, but there is no timetable as to when, nor even a fixed idea as to how long such a study would last.
In October the DOT proposed altering the timing of the lights at the intersections of Route 1 at Harrison and Washington and eliminating jughandle turns from Route 1 North onto both those roads (U.S. 1, October 27, 2010).
Dee says that proposal has more footing now — the DOT “will eliminate those turns,” and will usher in the plan through a pilot program that has been widely reported to be a four-week study of traffic patterns.
Those reports sparked worries from a coalition of mayors whose municipalities are most greatly affected by Route 1’s rhythms. Some officials fear that closing off jughandles between Alexander Road in West Windsor and Scudder’s Mill Road in Plainsboro would only shift tie-ups from the highway to the crossroads for drivers looking to get to and from Princeton.
Others worry about the timing. There is a pending repair to the S-curve on Alexander Road near the D&R Canal that is expected to reduce Alexander Road to a single lane for a period of several weeks and close the road entirely for at least two weeks. Some fear that experimenting with Route 1 before Alexander reopens would be disastrous.
Dee said the DOT is aware of the Alexander Road project (which, according to West Windsor Mayor Shing Fu-Hseuh, is waiting for PSE&G to finish its underground work and should be ready to go soon) and acknowledges other projects in the queue. One is the still-unfinished paving of the Route 1 bridge at the Millstone River and another is the addition of a left-turn lane on Harrison Street that would allow left turns onto Route 1. That project has yet to begin.
Given these projects, Dee said, any alterations to Route 1’s traffic patterns now would be ill-timed. He said the department has no timetable at all (not even an internal one) regarding the jughandle closures, but he speculated that the pilot program would probably not begin until the above-mentioned projects were finished. “This is all far too preliminary at this point,” he said.
When the pilot program begins it will not mean complete closures at Harrison or Washington. Drivers heading into Princeton on Route 1 North who do not exit at Alexander Road will drive to Scudder’s Mill Road (approximately two miles north of Harrison Street), where they would loop around, come south, and then turn right onto either Harrison Street or Washington Road. Drivers on those other roads would still be able to get onto Route 1 going both directions, but northbound drivers on Route 1 would no longer be able to use these intersections as jughandles toward Princeton.
The DOT feels that the new traffic pattern would reduce back-ups at these intersections, which ripple throughout peak drive times and often create congestion along the entire length of Route 1 in Mercer and Middlesex counties. The idea, Dee said, is that the right lanes that now get clogged by drivers trying to make the jughandle turn at Washington or Harrison will now be open to through traffic.
But it remains to be seen whether drivers will want to make a longer trip north or will just start turning onto Alexander Road.