Princeton officials to consider resolution supporting Route 1 Penns Neck changes tonight

The Princeton Council is slated tonight to approve a resolution supporting the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s plan for improvements on Route 1 between Penns Neck and Plainsboro.

The plan would widen Route 1 to eight lanes, four in each direction. The plan includes other changes, like adding a second traffic light at Washington Road to clear the circle, shortening the signal length, and increasing the circle size to add another lane. At Fisher Place, a larger jug handle ramp would be created, along with a right turn bay. A new loop ramp also would be added to the existing jug handle at Harrison street.

According to the resolution, officials are supporting the changes to promote safety for bicyclists and pedestrians traveling between Princeton and West Windsor.  “Every effort should be made to ensure safe crossing to provide alternative modes of travel between the communities,” reads the resolution.

The proposed changes come at a time when Princeton University is considering developing its land in West Windsor and building a bridge across Lake Carnegie. The bridge would be available for cyclists and light vehicles like golf carts so vehicles would not have to use existing Washington Road and Harrison Street crossings.

State officials say the Route 1 plan that re-configures the Harrison Street, Washington Road and Fisher Place intersections will ease congestion between the New Jersey Transit bridge south of Alexander Road and the Millstone Bridge north of Harrison Street for the next 20 years.

The last time the NJDOT made improvements at Washington Road, closing two heavily used jug handles on Route 1, the results were a disaster and the experiment was terminated before it became permanent.Vehicles still turned off of Route 1 at Washington Road and turned around on side streets in order to get to the other side of Route 1, increasing traffic in the Penns Neck neighborhood.

Some Princeton residents believe the  new proposed Route 1 changes would cause traffic jams for people trying to get in or out of Princeton during rush hour. They also question what kinds of studies the town has done to look at the impact on Princeton residents and wonder why forums to get citizen feedback in Princeton have not been held.  State reports and data should be reviewed before the town signs on to the proposed changes, they argue.

“I am shocked that you would even put on the agenda a resolution to endorse the DOT proposed modification, have you actually done a study of the impact on Princeton traffic?,” one resident wrote to officials. “Can you imagine being a Princeton resident trying to get to the hospital from Harrison St during rush hour?  Have you had PFARS, and other emergency responders review and comment on this?”

The resident urged officials to table the resolution and instead set up a working group to look into the proposal in more detail.  “If these changes are made, they will be impossible to change.  It will not be like just taking down a few barricades and signs as it was with the jug handle fiasco,” reads the email from the resident. “I am not as familiar with the rush hour traffic at the circle and have not had a chance to look at the circle modifications.  That modification also needs scrutiny and study.”

In other business, the council is slated to approve a resolution to hire a new cleaning service for the municipality. Town officials want to get rid of the current service, which is staffed by developmentally disabled people from the Mercer ARC, because they don’t think the group does a good enough job. The lowest bidder for the new contract would also charge $134,460, or about $34,000 less for an 18-month contract.

The council is slated borrow money for improvements at the public library that include  technology replacements and upgrades, carpet and furniture replacements, the installation of a video surveillance system and security card access, and restroom upgrades.

Princeton will officially become the owner of the Franklin Avenue parking lot, which Princeton University is donating to the town. The town will purchase the lot for $1. The site has been discussed as a possible location for affordable housing.

Officials are also slated to approve spending $240,000 from the town’s affordable housing trust fund to partially reimburse Community Options, Inc. for the purchase and renovation of 24 Dorann Avenue, which will become a four-bedroom group home for people with developmental disabilities. The town receives extra credits towards COAH affordable housing obligations for group homes.  The deed will restrict the property to be used for low and moderate income people for at least 30 years.

Officials are also slated to approve new salary ranges and salaries for municipal employees tonight.