Meadow Road

Millstone Bypass

Route 92’s Delay

Corrections or additions?

This article by Bill Sanservino was prepared for the September 27,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Traffic Scorecord

If the N.J. Department of Transportation (DOT) meets

its goal, Route 1 will be virtually free of traffic lights and long

delays between Bakers Basin/Franklin Corner Road and Ridge Road.

Achieving

that goal is going to be a challenge, thanks to a cadre of

environmentalists

and politicians who have lined up to oppose the state’s next round

of road projects.

Despite the opposition, improvements already implemented in the last

10 years have helped keep traffic on Route 1 moving. As measured last

week in the annual U.S. 1 traffic survey, driving times along the

highway during peak traffic actually showed a slight improvement over

the previous year. Yet severe bottlenecks continue, and apparently

DOT has become just as impatient with Route 1 delays as the motorists

who sit on the clogged highway every day.

Faced with significant opposition to several projects that would

improve

the flow, DOT has decided to play a different card — the quick-fix

traffic light card. This Tuesday, September 26, DOT began doubling

the "green time" at six Route 1 lights during the morning

rush hour. The new plan is supposed to keep cars moving north, and

so the lines for motorists waiting to access Route 1 from I-95/295

should improve.

The lights — Nassau Park, Meadow Road, Carnegie Center Boulevard,

Washington Road, Fisher Place, and Harrison Street — had been

on two-minute cycles, offering about 1 1/2 minutes of "green

time"

to north/south traffic and 25 seconds of green to side roads.

Now the north/south traffic is getting twice as much time — 3

1/2 minutes — so more cars going north in the morning will get

through each light. "We are doubling the amount of green for peak

morning rush hour, 6:30 to 9:30 a.m.," says DOT spokesman John

Dourgarian, "but after 9:30 we go back to the two-minute

cycle."

Of course there is a down side to DOT’s latest quick-fix —

lengthened

wait times for motorists on side roads such as Washington Road and

Harrison Street. "This change is going to cause some backups in

the morning on the side streets," Dourgarian admits.

That became evident on the first day. One motorist who crosses Route

1 at Washington Road every day reported that a five-minute wait at

the Penns Neck Circle turned into a 20-minute ordeal.

"With anything like this we are between the rock and the hard

place," says Dourgarian. "That is why we are not doing it in the

evening, when more traffic is exiting out on the side streets."

Despite all the state’s efforts, Route 1 is still in need of more

help. Projects the state is currently fighting to build include the

Millstone bypass (which has attracted very weighty opponents), the

proposed Route 92 connection to the New Jersey Turnpike, and the

future

widening of Route 1 in South Brunswick. All these projects would

fulfill

DOT’s stated goal: To funnel regional long-distance traffic to Route

1 and keep it flowing.

Opponents of DOT’s plans — those trying to prevent cars from

inundating

their municipalities — have mustered environmentalists to their

cause and claim that the DOT is moving much too quickly.

"Route 1 is the economic engine of this region, and really, the

extent to which it functions is the extent to which this region is

seen to be functioning," says Dianne Brake, president of the

Regional

Planning Partnership (formerly known as MSM Regional Forum). Her group

supports the construction of regional roadways to keep regional

traffic

off local roads.

Brake cites the 1985 DOT Route 1 Corridor Study as a model that sought

unified support from corridor communities. "It was a very

inclusive

public process that developed a plan for Route 1. The study outlined

a Route 1 with three lanes in both directions, with shoulders, and

as few lights as possible," says Brake.

Because of the changes made to date, the doomsayers in the 1980s —

who predicted delays of several hours for a trip down the Central

Jersey Route 1 corridor — have thus far been proven incorrect.

Top Of Page
Meadow Road

The Meadow Road overpass — being constructed just

south of MarketFair — is the project closest to fruition and faces

almost no opposition. It is a joint effort between two government

and three commercial entities. The majority of the project is being

built — and funded — by the DOT. West Windsor Township

dollars,

stockpiled from contributions by commercial developers, will be used

by the state to construct a realignment of Meadow Road through the

planned Palladium office/hotel complex at the northern corner of the

intersection of Route 1 and Meadow Road.

Site work began in August on the $13 million project and crews have

started clearing dirt in anticipation of the Route 1 widening.

Boston Properties’ Carnegie Center is the complex most affected. The

project will limit Route 1 access to the Carnegie Center and shift

the traffic to either Alexander Road or a new road that will connect

the center to Meadow Road. Lights at Meadow Road and Nassau Park

Boulevard

will eventually be removed. "If those two lights are

eliminated,"

says Micky Landis, vice president of Boston Properties, "there

will be no lights between Route 295 and Carnegie Center. That helps

both a.m. and p.m. traffic."

Another change will affect only morning traffic — the construction

of a collector-distributor road on Route 1 north with a ramp running

directly into the 500 series of buildings in Carnegie Center. The

final change is the new "connector" road, which will start

near Carnegie 506 and intersect with the realigned Meadow Road. This

will be the major point of entrance and exit from the center, for

both morning and evening, allowing quick access to the overpass and

Route 1, says Landis.

When complete, the Meadow Road overpass will begin at Canal Pointe

Boulevard, continue over Route 1, and end in the center of the

Palladium

property, an office and hotel complex planned for the acreage now

occupied by the jughandle. The overpass will have a half-cloverleaf

configuration (similar to the Alexander Road overpass) with access

to and from Meadow Road on both sides of the highway. A fourth lane,

the "collector-distributor road," will be constructed on Route

1 North between Meadow and Carnegie Center Boulevard and separated

from the rest of the highway by a median. (This is similar to the

collector road that currently can be found on Route 1 south at the

Quakerbridge Road overpass.)

The overall reconstruction of Meadow Road will be completed in two

phases over the next three years. Phase one — what DOT is doing

— includes the construction of the overpass and widening the

existing

Meadow Road past the Meadow Lane apartment complex. The scheduled

completion date for DOT’s phase is spring, 2002, but it will likely

be finished by December of next year, according to DOT spokesman

Alexander

Brown. Route 1 will not be closed at any point during the project.

Sometime in 2002, West Windsor will construct phase two of the project

— the realignment of Meadow Road and widening of the roadway to

Clarksville Road. The existing Meadow Road from Bear Brook Road to

the Meadow Lane Apartments will then be closed to through traffic.

Three existing business on Route 1 south will suffer a major impact

from the Meadow Road interchange. The Mobil station with deli at the

corner of Route 1 and Farber Road has been condemned by the state

and will be demolished sometime in 2001, says DOT spokesman John

Dourgarian.

The business was constructed with the full knowledge of the bypass

plan, and it sits in the middle of the planned acceleration lane.

Two other Farber Road businesses — the Princeton Car Wash and

Sunny Garden Chinese Restaurant — will lose direct access to Route

1. Customers looking to frequent these businesses will have to drive

down Canal Pointe Boulevard to Farber Road.

Top Of Page
Millstone Bypass

The Millstone Bypass is the next project targeted by

the N.J. Department of Transportation for construction on the Central

Jersey Route 1 Corridor. The single-worst traffic bottleneck on Route

1 between New Brunswick and Lawrence Township now comes at the troika

of lights at the area known as the Penns Neck Circle — Harrison

Street, Fisher Place and Washington Road. The Millstone Bypass would

remove all three.

The Millstone Bypass would effect a northern realignment of Route

571 complete with a grade-separated interchange over the highway.

The bypass would begin at Route 571 at the railroad bridge near the

Ellsworth’s shopping center in West Windsor, and run through the

Sarnoff

Corporation property, paralleling the Millstone River. The road would

then cross Route 1 at a new overpass near Harrison Street and turn

south near the Delaware & Raritan Canal to eventually intersect with

Washington Road near the Princeton border.

According to Dourgarian, the DOT has been working for the last three

years to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) of the project.

That document is expected to be completed by the first week of October

and will be made available on the Internet at

www.state.nj.us/transportation/

An EA, Dourgarian says, "is a comprehensive document" that

evaluates the road’s effect on the environment, historic areas, and

the population. "It looks at anything related to the impact of

the project on any number of levels."

"The EA evaluates whether there are any significant impacts caused

by the road and, if so, calls for a more comprehensive Environmental

Impact Statement (EIS) to be conducted," says Dourgarian. Through

the EA, the department can make a Finding of No Significant Impact

(FONSI) and move ahead with construction, or determine that an EIS

is necessary. Several sources have told U.S. 1 that they believe DOT

will issue a "mitigated FONSI" — a recommendation to

proceed

with the project and mitigate the environmental effects, rather than

to conduct a lengthy EIS, which could take up to 18 months to

complete.

Following a 45-day period for comment after the EA is released, DOT

will hold an official hearing for members of the public to comment.

If the EIS is required, the project would suffer a crippling delay.

According to Dourgarian, current plans call for construction to begin

on the highway in late 2003, with a two-year construction timeline.

An EIS would push the project back at least two years.

Following the public hearing on the EA, the DOT will ship the document

off to the Federal Highway Administration, which will make the

decision.

Even if the DOT recommends going ahead with the project without an

EIS, the federal government can still demand that a full blown EIS

be conducted.

Currently, says Dourgarian, there are no other viable alternatives

to be considered if the bypass is not constructed. The lights that

are there now would remain, and — as housing and commercial

development

continues — the bottlenecks would get worse.

That would undoubtedly put a major snag in the state’s vision of a

Route 1 unencumbered by delays caused by signalized intersections.

Some $200 million in federal, state and private funds have been spent

so far to keep traffic moving on Route 1 between New Brunswick and

Lawrenceville. These projects include the elimination of the traffic

lights at Bakers Basin and Plainsboro Road, and the overpasses at

Quakerbridge Road, College Road, Scudders Mill Road, Alexander Road,

and Meadow Road.

"Route 1 is seen as a very important highway corridor where

gridlock

conditions still continue to occur during rush hour situations. We’ve

made Route 1 a focus for widening and removal of certain traffic

signals.

If we had not done this work, Route 1 would be a parking lot

today,"

says Dourgarian.

Even though these improvements have been significant, their effect

cannot be directly measured due to the constant influx of cars from

new commercial and residential construction. "Clearly these

projects

have helped — they haven’t solved the problem, but they do help

the efficiency of a road and how it operates," says Dourgarian.

Some 20 years ago, when the Millstone Bypass was placed on the

planning

rolls at the behest of West Windsor Township, DOT deemed the project

a low priority until other projects were completed. As Route 1

improvement

projects have continued at a pace of one every three or four years,

the Millstone Bypass has risen to the top of the list.

In recent years, the $58.5 million, three-mile project has been the

subject of heated debate and is now a thorn in relations between

Princeton

Borough and Township and West Windsor Township. West Windsor, which

is the geographical location for the entire bypass, wants the road

to relieve residential streets that have been invaded by high traffic

volumes. Princeton officials claim the bypass will pump additional

traffic into the hearts of their communities.

The Princetons’ argument, DOT’s Dourgarian says, holds no water.

"What

has been lost in all of this is that we have worked with the community

there for 20 years to develop this plan. Traffic studies have found

that project will not increase traffic going into Princeton."

Studied do show that Princeton traffic volume will increase, he says,

but not as a result of the Millstone Bypass.

Dourgarian says that there is no plan of attack by DOT to counter

the projects’ opponents. "We are committed to an open process.

With road projects, there is no such thing as unanimous support. All

we can do is allow the process to go forward, allow for public

comment,

and release factual information."

Several non-political heavy-hitters — Princeton University, the

Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission, N.J. Sierra Club, and the Stony

Brook Millstone Watershed Association — have taken sides on the

project.

The environmental groups fear the effects of the road on nearby

waterways

— the Delaware & Raritan Canal, Lake Carnegie, and the Millstone

River. Environmentalists are also concerned the road would affect

the "Elm Allee" — a row of stately elms that lines both

sides of Washington Road west of Route 1 and on the West Windsor

portion

of university property. One of DOT’s recent plans called for

Washington

Road to be closed, which would result in the loss of what many

Princetonians

consider to be the traditional scenic entrance to their community.

The most recent alignment of the highway addressed that concern, with

DOT allowing limited right turn in/right turn out access to Washington

Road. Only a few elms would be destroyed by the bypass’s construction.

The Watershed Association, nevertheless, is lobbying for a lengthy

EIS of the planned bypass route. "Our fundamental purpose is to

speak for the water quality and habitats of our region’s rivers and

streams," says David Kinsey, vice chair of the Watershed

Association

Board of Trustees.

"We question the alignment next to two of the finest natural

resources

in central Jersey — the Canal Park and the unfragmented wetlands

and habitat on the Millstone River," says George Hawkins, the

association’s executive director. "There may be feasible

alternative

alignments that preserve these natural jewels. We plan to review any

environmental assessment and call for a full explanation of the

impacts

of alternative alignments."

Proponents are just as ardent, if not more so, than

those opposing the project. The Millstone Bypass historically has

been one of the few issues in West Windsor that has had the unanimous

support of the township’s quarrelsome political factions. The township

believes its opinion should bear extra weight because the project

is located solely in West Windsor. Major landowners affected by the

bypass — the Sarnoff Corporation and Princeton University —

also fully support its construction.

According to West Windsor Mayor Carole Carson, environmental issues

are inevitable "when you build in a state as congested in New

Jersey." This case is different, she added, because the property

on which the bypass will be constructed is privately owned by Sarnoff

and the university.

"We’re not talking about building on open space or park land

here,"

says the mayor. "Those properties are available for development

and zoned for development. Eventually something is going to be built

there. The argument that this is pristine land is invalid. If someone

wants to buy land from David Sarnoff and Princeton University then

they can preserve those properties themselves and make them pristine

lands."

Probably the biggest proponent of the road is Rae Roeder, West Windsor

councilwoman, who fought for decades to get the bypass on state and

county engineering maps. Roeder feels the Elm Allee is being used

as a pawn by bypass opponents to delay or stop the project. "The

people in the Princetons argue they want to continue to route traffic

onto the tree-lined road known as the Elms Allee. When has traffic

ever been a good thing? How can trees survive constant exhaust fumes?

The trees would be better off they are bypassed. What you have here

is a red-herring argument being used as an excuse to stop the

bypass."

Top Of Page
Route 92’s Delay

Route 92, the grand daddy of all New Jersey road

projects

when it comes to debate over alignment and the environment, has been

sitting on planning books for more than 60 years. The proposed highway

is an east-west connector to be constructed by the New Jersey Turnpike

Authority — if indeed it ever is constructed.

After 60 years, the only section of the highway that has been built

is the Hightstown Bypass. Seen as a necessary element to preserve

quality of life in Hightstown, the bypass was ultimately

"bifurcated"

from Route 92 and completed last year while the debate over the

remainder

of the project continued to rage.

A $310 million 6.7-mile limited-access toll road is supposed to run

from Turnpike Exit 8A in Monroe Township to Route 1 in South Brunswick

near Ridge Road. But now it is mired in a federally mandated

environmental

evaluation to decide whether concern over 14 acres of wetlands and

environmentally sensitive land should trigger a re-design that would

send traffic pouring onto Plainsboro’s streets.

Those in favor of the current design claimed a recent victory when

an independent consulting firm, hired by the Delaware Valley Regional

Planning Commission (DVRPC), determined that the highway would provide

substantial traffic relief. The "Central Jersey Transportation

Forum East-West Analysis," conducted by Pennsylvania-based URS,

was presented to the DVRPC’s Central Jersey Transportation Forum on

September 8.

According to this report, Route 92 would remove some 5,000 vehicles

daily from Dey Road in Plainsboro east of Scudders Mill Road; remove

4,700 cars daily from Plainsboro Road east of Scudders Mill Road;

and remove 11,000 vehicles per day from Route 522 between Ridge Road

and Kingston Place.

Among the opponents of the current plan is Robert Margadonna, founder

of the Friends of the Plainsboro Preserve, who argues that it would

affect a small northern portion of the nature park. The Friends call

the project "an environmentally destructive highway . . . slicing

though the northern third of the Plainsboro Preserve, destroying 14

acres of what the EPA has classified as exceptional wetlands."

Another formidable opponent is the federal Environmental Protection

Agency (EPA), which denied wetlands permits in 1998, even though the

state DEP had approved them. The EPA then recommended an alternative

that would route traffic down Dey and Scudders Mill roads through

the center of one of Plainsboro Township’s most densely populated

residential areas. Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu has said the effect

on the community by the EPA proposal would be "devastating."

After last year’s EPA decision, the project was sent to the U.S. Army

Corps of Engineers for environmental permit approval. Last February,

the Corps announced that it could not use any of the previously

completed

environmental studies and would have to commission an in-depth EIS

of its own.

"The Corps of Engineers has determined that the decision-making

process for the Route 92 project is a major Federal action with

potentially

significant environmental impacts," says Joseph J. Seebode, chief

of the Army Corps Regulatory Branch. The duration of that study is

expected to be between 12 and 18 months.

Once again, the success of controversial projects hinge on

environmental

studies. The Millstone Bypass awaits its state environmental study

— and that could be turn into a long federal one. Route 92 has

already passed its state test, but a federal study was mandated

anyway.

Whether you are pleased with the environmentally-based decisions

depends

on where you live and where you drive. Like rush hour traffic itself,

road controversies seem inevitable.

B>n

Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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