NJDOT Commissioner Pulls the Plug on Route 1 Jughandle Trial

NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson poses for a photo with Penns Neck residents after announcing he is calling off the Route 1 jughandle trial.

State Commissioner of Transportation James Simpson announced to a group of Princeton and West Windsor residents this afternoon that he is calling off the Route 1 jughandle trial.

Simpson showed up at the jughandle trial protest on Washington Road to talk with residents and promised them he would seek other solutions to the traffic problems along the congested Route 1 corridor in the Princeton area. Simpson said the trial, which eliminated left turns for Route 1 northbound motorists at Washington Road and Harrison Street, had produced the expected improvements in traffic flow on Route 1, but that the unintended consequences in West Windsor and the Princetons outweighed the benefits.

He said NJDOT crews will remove all barricades, barrels and signage associated with the trial in the coming days. They could be removed as early as Sunday night, Simpson said, promising that they would definitely be removed within the next week. All traffic movements that were permitted prior to the trial will be restored, including right turns from Route 1 northbound onto Varsity Avenue and Fisher Place, and left turn movements from Route 1 southbound at Fisher Place and Washington Road.

“You all live here and pay high taxes. Our job is to make your lives better, not worse,” Simpson said. “This is an important corridor and we need to invest in long term solutions to fix traffic problems along this stretch of Route 1.”

Elated residents of West Windsor and Princeton cheered, put down their protest signs, shook Simpson’s hand and posed for photos with him, then many gave him their two cents about what kinds of traffic fixes are needed.

Simpson said he would work with local communities and county officials to try to come up with a better buildable solution such as an overpass, which he said would mean taking over some private land. And, of course, one issue is money. The state does not have money earmarked for such a project, he said, but a solution will require funding.

The jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street were closed off in early August for a 12-week trial. The objective was to speed up traffic along Route 1. But drivers coming north who can no longer use the jughandles to cut across Route 1 have been making u-turns along side streets on Washington Road to turn around and cut across Route 1 into Princeton. Dozens of no u-turn signs, the threat of three points on a driver’s license, and police monitoring has not deterred people. The jughandles closures have also resulted in delays on Washington Road, Alexander Road and other Princeton area streets.

“The goal of the trial was to improve the quality of life for residents and commuters in this congested section of Route 1,” said Simpson, who made numerous trips to the Penns Neck neighborhood and Alexander Road in recent weeks to observe firsthand the affects of the trial.

“Unfortunately, the trial disrupted the Penns Neck neighborhood with additional traffic and created safety concerns.  Our efforts to resolve those issues and guide motorists to the Scudders Mill interchange were unsuccessful,” Simpson said.  “Increased congestion along Alexander Street in Princeton was also a concern.”

Simpson had always promised area residents he would pull the plug if the project was not successful. In the early days of the trial the DOT characterized it as a success, pointing only to minor problems officials said could be fixed.

“We told local officials, residents and other stakeholders in the Princetons, West Windsor and Plainsboro that we would terminate the trial prior to its scheduled 12-week duration if we became convinced that unintended consequences could not be satisfactorily mitigated,” Simpson said. “We are making good on that promise today.”

The trial was scheduled to continue until the last week of October.  About 100 area residents showed up to protest the trial today, many of them carrying picket signs with slogans like “We need viable solutions, not band-aids”, “Please rethink the pilot project NJDOT”, “Gov. Christie, protect our kids,” and “Tired of sitting in traffic? Sign our petition.”

Drivers honked and gave the group the thumbs up throughout the protest, which lasted about three hours. Residents who live in the Penns Neck neighborhood  said they feared for their children’s safety because of all the traffic and the u-turns. At least nine accidents have been reported in their area since the jughandle trial started.

Eric Payne, one of the organizers of the protest, said more than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling for the trial to end.

“No one in our neighborhood wants to drive and deal with all the traffic,” Payne said. “”People are not driving into Princeton because of the delays, and people who take the train to Princeton Junction have been faced with another 45 minutes in their cars because of the traffic back ups.”

“The only drivers this project helped is people who travel the six miles between interstate exits and College Road in Plainsboro,” said resident Susan Parris. “Other traffic isn’t moving that much faster, and lots of traffic is moving slower.”

Princeton Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes, who was at the protest this morning, has been working with local merchants since February to present their concerns to the NJDOT.

“Princeton elected officials and local merchants want to thank Commissioner Simpson for his ongoing efforts to engage us and for listening to our concerns regarding the complexities of Rt 1 traffic corridor and their local impacts,” Wilkes said. “We have learned important lessons from this trial and we will continue to work with him and NJDOT and adjacent communities to seek better solutions to our growing traffic problems.”

Residents, elected officials, the business community and others have urged that a number of options be revisited, such as extending West Windsor’s Vaughn Drive to Washington Road, widening the Mercer County-owned bridge that spans the Delaware & Raritan Canal on Alexander Road, and building an overpass near the intersection of Route 1 and Harrison Street.

Simpson talks to a West Windsor official at the protest.
Protesters lined up along Washington Road.
Dozens of signs like this one were make for the protest.
(l-r) Eric Payne, Susan Parris and the Rev. Peter Ely with their protest signs.

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