Chambers Street in Princeton will be a one-way street during demolition work and construction work for the new Graduate Hotel. The hotel will be located at the 20 Nassau Street property that once housed many offices and local businesses. Work is also being done on Witherspoon Street during the same period.
Jim Purcell, the assistant municipal engineer, told the council Monday night the road will need to be reduced to one lane for the construction work zone. Traffic will flow north. Southbound traffic heading to Nassau Street will not be allowed. Drivers will have to take Paul Robeson Place to Route 206 instead.
Tom O’Shea, the engineer for Graduate Hotels, said the road is not wide enough for two-way traffic because of the equipment that will be on-site such as dumpsters. Currently, the sidewalk on the west side is closed to the public, he said. For the next phase beginning in May, demolition work will take place, beginning at the northeast corner of the site and working toward the southwest corner. There will be some work along Nassau Street but no work along Bank Street, he said. The demolition phase will last for three months from May through July.
The next phase after demolition will include site excavation, wall shoring, and the preparation of the site for construction.
Demolition and construction work will take place five days a week. Asked if the street could be opened to traffic for the benefit of businesses on the weekends, Graduate Hotels representatives said that would not be possible. Fence removal would be involved and that would take a day away from their work schedule every week.
Christopher DeGrezia, the lawyer for Graduate Hotels, said the good news is that originally the project was going to take 24 months, and will now only take 20 months.
Asked why traffic will flow northbound instead of southbound, Purcell said the choice was better from a safety standpoint. Southbound traffic would cause traffic jams because of the turn onto Nassau Steet. Northbound traffic could be more easily cleared for ambulances and fire trucks. Other logistics would also be difficult with a southbound route, and any action on Nassau Street would require state approval because it is a state road.
Officials said the northbound route into town was better for local businesses because it would bring people into the shopping district. People would have a more difficult time getting out but would have other routes to leave down after dining and shopping.
Sergeant Tom Murray of the Princeton Police Department said he first thought the road should be southbound. “My phone is going to ring no matter what the situation is,” Murray said. “There will be backups and congestion. You are closing part of a major roadway that leads into and out of the central business district.”
Murray said all the state highway traffic would be dumped onto Chambers Street with very little advance warning if the road were southbound only, and drivers would not realize until it is too late that they can no longer make a left on Chambers Street, resulting in backups and traffic accidents.
“The other concern is that Witherspoon Street will be under construction at the same time,” Murray said. “We may lose Witherspoon during the day during that construction period. By losing it at the same time, traffic could back up on Nassau Street to the point where nothing is going to move.”
Murray said he has talked to some prominent business people in the community and they all think it is better to get people into town smoothly rather than getting them out smoothly. The northbound option will benefit local businesses. He also said residents on Bank Street also would suffer if Chambers Street is southbound only. Drivers would take Bank Street to head north. “Bank Street is not designed to handle that kind of traffic,” Murray said.
The northbound route provides more room for advisory notices and detour signs, and the traffic signal at Paul Robeson Place And Bayard Lane (Route 206) is a smart light that will move traffic evenly in all directions, Murray said. He also suggested that the timing of the all-pedestrian traffic light at the intersection on Nassau Street, Vandeventer Avenue, and Washington Road be changed during the construction project to easy traffic congestion downtown because traffic does back up there.