Princeton Area Residents Voice Concerns About New NJDOT Route 1 Proposal

Eric Payne of the citizen group Smart Traffic Solutions discusses alternatives to the new NJDOT proposal.
Eric Payne of the citizen group Smart Traffic Solutions discusses alternatives to the new NJDOT proposal.

Princeton, Lawrence and West Windsor residents expressed concerns at three meetings Monday about the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s new concept plan to improve the traffic flow along the Route 1 corridor between Washington Road and Harrison Street.

Residents called the plan a disaster and a waste of money. Princeton residents said any plan that puts more stress on Alexander Road or Faculty Road is bad for Princeton. West Windsor resident Eric Payne says the new concept plan is like putting lipstick on a pig.

“Let’s bite the bullet and get the problem fixed with an overpass, or if that isn’t possible, then by creating other access roads,” Payne told the Princeton traffic and transportation committee Monday night. “We need a more comprehensive plan that works. We should be removing lights from Route 1, not adding lights. The NJDOT pilot program failed, so why are we bringing it back?”

Payne said an environmental impact study done in 2003 came up with about 15 possible solutions to try to resolve traffic issues in the area. The proposal the NJDOT is now pitching for changes along Route 1 was the lowest ranked proposal of the ones listed in the environmental impact study, Payne said.

Josh Wilton, a realtor who works and lives in Princeton, said the pilot program last year negatively affected Princeton residents. The jughandle closures made a 12-minute commute turn into a 42-minute commute. Wilton urged the NJDOT to take a more holistic approach this time.

Princeton officials and a representative from Princeton University agreed that they want to review data from the NJDOT before endorsing any proposal. West Windsor held a public forum on the issue that drew about 60 people Monday morning, and officials will host  a second meeting in West Windsor Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in Room A at the municipal building.

“People in West Windsor and Princeton have concerns that go back decades,” said Anton Lahnston,  head of Princeton’s traffic and transportation committee. “We need more information from the DOT. We need to see traffic data. We also need to put together a response to them saying yes, we want a seat at the table. But we need to partner with West Windsor and Princeton University and have everyone at the same table.”

The NJDOT does not have the money to fund the project, which could cost up to $40 million. The bulk of the cost would be to move utility poles, officials said.

Payne said there were four accidents in front of his house on Route 571 during the jughandle trial last year. He expressed skepticism about the NJDOT’s data – data he said did not match residents’ experiences.

“Adding more lights on Route 1 is the most absurd thing I’ve seen in life. Everyone knows adding a light is going to cause a ripple effect and slow down traffic,” he said. “If the DOT moves forward with this plan, we will will have to live with it until 2035. Back a decade ago, the cost to build an overpass was $50 million. Now it is $170 million. What will it be in 20 years? What is it going to cost to do the right thing? The state can bail out a casino for $200 million, but it can’t fix our traffic problems?”

The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s new concept plan for improving the flow of traffic along Route 1 between Washington Road and Harrison Street includes:

-Widening Route 1 to four lanes in each direction

– Eliminating the jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street again

– Adding a traffic light and two jughandles for u-turns about half way between Washington Road and Harrison Street

– Adding a new circle-shaped jughandle at Washington Road on the site of the former Exxon Station that is now vacant, so that drivers traveling south on Route 1 can cut across the highway and get on to 571.

– Eliminating the jughandle and light at Fisher Place

– Drivers heading northbound on Route 1 who want to go in to downtown Princeton would take the new jughandle, go south on Route 1 briefly, and then make a right on to Washington Road.

The NJDOT eliminated the Route 1 jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street last August, but reopened the jughandles after area residents complained. Many drivers chose to made a right on to 571, and made u-turns along the road and side streets instead of turning off at Alexander Road or driving up to the Scudders Mill Road jughandle to turn around. The problems prompted Penns Neck residents to start a successful petition drive, and residents also held a protest along 571. DOT Commissioner Jim Simpson came out to talk with protesters, announced he was pulling the plug on the plan, and promised to come up with another solution.

Monday night Princeton Councilman Patrick Simon said that while thru traffic on Route 1 improved during the pilot, traffic that gets on or off Route 1 was negatively impacted, and so was traffic crossing Route 1. Some officials and residents suggested smaller tweaks could be made to area roads to improve the flow of traffic and alleviate the backup on the jughandles.

“This plan reduced, but does not eliminate the negative impacts,” he said. “We should not be spending money on jughandles and loops. Didn’t the the state just take up a bill to make it illegal to add jughandles to New Jersey highways? It’s a strange plan. The last experiment created winners and losers, and the losers did not behave as predicted. The losers may not behave the way that is anticipated in this plan either.”

Area residents packed a meeting about the new Route 1 jughandle proposal Monday night.
Area residents packed a meeting about the new Route 1 jughandle proposal Monday night.