Princeton Officials, Business Leaders Meet with DOT Commissioner to Ask for Route 1 Jughandle Trial Delay

Top Princeton officials and business leaders met with the head of the state Department of Transportation this morning to ask for a postponement of the Route 1 jughandle trial.

During the trial, which is slated to begin in mid March and last for up to three months, the jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street will be blocked off, meaning northbound travelers on Route 1 who want to go in to Princeton will either have to exit on Alexander Road or drive up to Scudders Mill Road and double back on Route 1 south.

Business leaders, who already face tough competition from Route 1 businesses and the Web,  have expressed fears that the trial will deter people from shopping in Princeton.

Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes organized the meeting with DOT Commissioner James Simpson so that business leaders could express their concerns about the trial and the timing. Wilkes was one of about 10 representatives from Princeton who met with the commissioner for more than an hour at the DOT headquarters in Ewing.

“It was a very good meeting with lots of very frank discussion,” Wilkes said.  “Downtown merchants and business owners expressed concerns that they will pay significant economic costs through lost sales due to the inconvenience of the jughandles being closed off.”

The group requested that the trial be postponed until after the hospital moves from downtown Princeton to Route 1 in Plainsboro, which is scheduled to happen in May.

“That way, any baseline data reflects the future conditions after the hospital move and not conditions before the move,” Wilkes said.

The second quarter of the year  is also a key time for Princeton businesses, Wilkes said, and includes graduations, university reunions and weddings. While the DOT has promised lots of signage up and down Route 1 to alert drivers of the changes, merchants pointed out that directions have already been set up for wedding parties and other events, and GPS systems won’t reflect the changes yet.

“Timing for the trial sprang up so quickly, without merchants being prepared, and the fear is the trial will cause great harm to their businesses,” Wilkes said. “The commissioner and staff were sympathetic to such concerns. They made it clear they do not want to take any steps that would negatively impact the economy of Princeton.”

At the meeting, DOT officials did not indicate whether the agency would agree to the request to postpone the trial.

“The commissioner met with a group of business people and others from Princeton this morning to continue the dialogue we have had with stakeholders for more than a year,” DOT Spokesman Joe Dee said. “The discussion was wide-ranging and productive, much like the public discussions we had two weeks ago in West Windsor and Princeton.  We continue to review comments and suggestions.  We have noting to announce at this time.”

The jughandle study, which predates the current DOT commissioner, has been in the works for a while and was already postponed last year.

“In it’s previous incarnation, there was much less analysis, and much less weighting of impacts to adjacent communities and neighborhoods,” Wilkes said. “The commissioner expanded the scope of the project to include traffic analysis across major arteries in Princeton and West Windsor. He is doing a much more thorough analysis.”

Wilkes said Simpson also made it clear at the meeting that the controversial Penns Neck Bypass would cost $200 million the state does not have the funding for. There are also significant unknowns with that project in terms of construction, such as the possibility of damaging historic buildings at the Washington Road intersection.

DOT meeting attendees from Princeton included:

Business leaders – David Newton, Palmer Square Management; Jack Morrison, Witherspoon Grill; Lori Rabon, The Nassau Inn; Carly Meyer, The Bank of Princeton; Jan Weinberg, Weinberg Management; Barry Weisfeld, the Princeton Record Exchange, Chris Hannington, the Princeton Shopping Center.

Princeton University officials: Kristin Appelget and Karen Jezierny

Princeton HealthCare: Pam Hersh

Princeton Borough Officials: Kevin Wilkes, Yina Moore.

Monday night, Princeton Township officials said the township was asking the DOT delay the jughandle trial. The Borough Council is also slated to consider a resolution on the jughandle issue at its 7:30 meeting tonight.