Revised Transit Agreement with Princeton U. Slated for Vote Next Week
The borough council is scheduled to vote on a revised transit agreement with Princeton University at the governing body’s public meeting Tuesday night.
A new proposed agreement detailed in a “memorandum of understanding” has been worked out that includes more funding from the university, a transit study and a traffic study, and an accelerated timeline for key elements to be implemented.
Upon signing the agreement, a transit task force would be created that would immediately get to work studying mass transit issues and future transit. The previous draft agreement called for such a group to be created only after the township and borough approve the zoning for the university’s proposed $300 million arts and transit neighborhood on the western edge of its campus.
A second study, which would start when the university files its arts center plans, would look at traffic issues in Princeton as a whole, with a focus on the central business district downtown and how new university projects like Merwick will affect traffic patterns.
The university is doubling the amount of money it would contribute to a mass transit study trust fund, and would provide an additional $450,000 for three illuminated pedestrian crosswalks on Nassau Street at Palmer Square, Tulane Street and 185 Nassau Street.
In an interview Wednesday, Council President Kevin Wilkes said the agreement is important because it achieves a commitment from the university, the borough and the township to work together to plan for the town’s future.
The agreement provides a new right of way along Alexander for future transit, possibly a light rail or street car system. The university plans to move the Dinky station 460 feet south of its existing location, further away from town, regardless of whether the two Princetons approve zoning for the arts center plans.
“Not a soul on the council prefers that the station be moved,” Wilkes said. “We are all resolutely opposed to that, but some of us have come to realize that the university can exercise its right to move the station. We could fight it, with a very small chance of prevailing that would lead to large legal bills. Some of us don’t have the appetite for that outcome.”
Wilkes said special legal counsel for the borough spent the summer researching the dinky station issue in depth and a title search firm researched the ownership history of the property. NJ Transit officials have also said the university has the right to move the station.
“We’ve looked a lot of options, and in the end we don’t feel we can prevent the move,” Wilkes said. “It seems appropriate to try to negotiate the best benefits for the community if the university is going to move the station on its own terms anyway. The agreement serves the larger interests of the community.”
A negotiating committee from the borough and the township came to an agreement with the university on the revised transit memorandum Monday morning.
The agreement also extends the period for a new right of way along Alexander from 50 years to 65 years, which was a sticking point with some officials. If nothing is build in that time frame, the easements would terminate.
While the township committee has been supportive of approving the agreement with the university since the first draft was released in May, the borough council has been divided, but some of the additions to the agreement have won over more council members and it appears the six-member council now has a 3-2 majority to approve the agreement.
Councilman David Goldfarb works for a law firm that represents the university on planning issues and has recused himself on the station issue. Council members Jenny Crumiller and Jo Butler have been staunch supporters of keeping the Dinky where it is. A citizen group called Save the Princeton Dinky has called for the station to remain where it is, and some people have suggested the town use eminent domain to preserve the station.
The borough is slated to vote on the agreement at its public meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at borough hall. The full revised draft agreement was posted on the borough website Wednesday night.
Editor’s Note: An earlier edition of this story incorrectly stated that a second study after the zoning is approved would look at traffic issues in Princeton as a whole. The study will start after the university submits its plans for the proposed arts center.