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This article was prepared for the September 25, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Traffic Survey: Thank Heavens For Overpasses

No matter how we improve traffic flow, the number of

cars on the road will inexorably increase. Taking just the area from

the Forrestal Center to the Carnegie Center, employment is supposed

to nearly double, going from 46,000 to 86,500 by 2028.

Yet more traffic does not necessarily mean more congestion, as U.S.

1 Newspaper’s Route 1 traffic surveys have shown, because driving

times decrease when major improvements are made. For instance, when

drivers were allowed to use the shoulder lane during the morning and

afternoon rush hours, driving times dropped.

But of all the congestion-reducing measures that have been tried,

the overpasses are clear winners, largely because they eliminate red

lights on Route 1. This year U.S. 1’s drivers saw a demonstrable decrease

due to the new Meadow Road overpass (see chart, page 43).

Not every improvement to Route 1 helps the overall traffic situation.

Two years ago the DOT made the green lights longer on Route 1, and

this initially precipitated a huge logjam on the crossroads, especially

at Washington Road and Harrison Street. (Adjustments were soon made

and these eased the back-ups at the intersections.) Crossroads without

an overpass, as the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) points out, are

tough to improve. These old, old roads are being asked to do big league

service.

As a result many Route 1 drivers are lobbying for the proposed overpass

for Harrison Street and Washington Road that the Millstone Bypass

would bring (see page 12). One useful idea from the Partners Roundtable

is to have Vaughn Drive continue through the train station across

the Dinky tracks and, expanded to a "real" road, go all the

way to the proposed bypass.

Other proposed improvements for commuters are longer

term and far more expensive. One is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), now being

taken seriously by planners and traffic experts. It is being studied

by the Central Jersey Transportation Forum — a group created by

the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to work with New

Jersey Transit to reduce traffic congestion. In June when the Sarnoff

Corporation was granted approval for a 3 million square-foot office

complex, the West Windsor planning board required that BRT be an integral

part of its plan.

BRT makes use of sleek high-tech vehicles resembling a hybrid bus/train

that can travel on specially-designed "guideways" as well

as regular roads. A BRT vehicle would be able to carry passengers

over a dedicated right-of-way, such as an old railroad line, and then

wheel through city centers and neighborhoods picking up riders. As

BRT is envisioned, intersections would be realigned with dedicated

bus lanes, and a BRT driver could signal the traffic light from a

short distance away and trigger a green light to let the commuters

through ahead of the cars.

BRT systems are already operating successfully worldwide and in 14

cities in the United States including Boston, Cleveland, Detroit,

Hartford, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.

As proposed, this BRT line would have a guideway on a strip between

Route 1 and the Amtrak mainline from Lawrence to South Brunswick townships.

Stops include Quakerbridge Mall, a complex built on the Wyeth (formerly

American Cyanamid) property, Carnegie Center, the Princeton Junction

train station, Sarnoff’s office complex, the Merrill Lynch and Squibb

complexes on Scudders Mill Road, Forrestal Center, and Ridge Road.

The plan also includes a line that runs into downtown Princeton utilizing

the existing Dinky Railroad or a bus that would run along the same

route. The advantage of the bus over the train would be that in the

20 minutes the train sits idly at the station, the bus could be moving

through town, picking up passengers.

The service would be supplemented by "feeder routes" —

bus lines throughout Mercer and lower Middlesex counties that tie

into the main BRT line. This would make the Princeton Junction train

station a major transportation hub — with cars, trains, and buses

all coming together in one place.

A New Jersey Transit study, showing that the proposed BRT line would

be economically feasible, estimates that it would carry 760 peak-hour

riders, well in excess of the 600 riders set at the beginning of the

study as the minimum for the proposal to merit additional research.

The line has the potential for 21,000 daily trips on the service,

with feeder lines generating some 6,000 daily trips.

BRT can be constructed incrementally, and the first phase could be

implemented as early as 2007. The next step is for NJ Transit and

the TMA to conduct a detailed in-depth study, including environmental

impacts, and detailed engineering.

Could BRT be the ultimate answer to the Millstone Bypass controversy,

an innovative system that would eliminate the need for such a bypass?

No way, most of the experts agree. It would be at least five years

before the first phase of a BRT could be installed, and at maximum

usage BRT would reduce actual traffic by only 5 to 8 percent. The

Penns Neck Area EIS concluded that even under the most favorable circumstances

a BRT system "would not significantly improve traffic congestion

in the Penns Neck area."

"All of the projections for traffic on Route 1 show that it’s

not going to get better," says Sandra Brillhart of the Greater

Mercer TMA, "And there’s no one silver bullet answer."


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