With their once-quiet neighborhood seeing more traffic, illegal driving maneuvers, and an increase in air and noise pollution due to the DOT jughandle closures on Route 1, West Windsor residents have been loud and clear about their opposition to the project and their reduced quality of life. But township officials say they are communicating daily with the DOT, and small steps towards alleviating a bad situation have come about.
On Wednesday, September 20, West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh met with the mayors of Princeton Borough (Yina Moore) and Plainsboro (Peter Cantu) as well as the Lawrence Township engineer, Princeton Township engineer, officials from Princeton University, and the Mercer County traffic engineer. Hsueh says joint forces coming from local municipalities will have a greater impact on the DOT, which thus far has only held the position that the trial, with five weeks to go, is working out well.
“We came together to have the same objective. I am very encouraged with the kind of consensus that we want to reach. Once we have this in writing, we will let the DOT know, and I will schedule a meeting with Commissioner [James] Simpson in West Windsor so that he can see some of the problems we are trying to address,” Hsueh said.
With the DOT trial originally scheduled to last 12 weeks, Hsueh says five more weeks are left (until the end of October) and he wants to get a more comprehensive “mid-term report” from the state agency. He added that if Commissioner Simpson comes to town, he will take him to see the conditions in Penns Neck that motorists and residents have had to confront.
On Monday, September 21, residents of Penns Neck met with Mayor Hsueh and West Windsor Director of Community Development Pat Ward to discuss the continued problems with cars U-turning or K-turning on people’s driveways or front lawns, or getting lost in the side streets as drivers attempt to find shortcuts out of the area. Several residents have put orange cones blocking their driveways and some have even painted messages on the road (see photo, page 1).
Washington Road residents Sharon Sibilia and Sanja Dimic, who addressed Council at its September 4 meeting (WW-P News, September 7), recently wrote a letter to the editor outlining eight points about the traffic concerns and hazards that have besieged Penns Neck. Chief among their observations is safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Another point Sibilia and Dimic make is that the signs along Route 1 notifying the lane closures are too small and too far away from the Washington Road intersection. “Signs on Route 1 now do not have any relevance to visitors. The sign on I-95 tells of the road closures, but does not suggest an alternative to access Princeton (i.e. Route 206). The white sign in front of the Hyatt Regency does not catch the eye.”
Sibilia and Dimic have also posed a question for the state DOT, the township, and police to consider: “What is the solution for people who turn right onto Washington Road in error?” Noting that Alexander Road is too small for trucks or tour buses, the residents say signs need to be placed on Washington Road to tell people how to get to Princeton.
Many U-turns and K-turns could be the result of impatience, and Sibilia and Dimic suggest letting commuters and drivers coming to and from the Princeton Junction train station know the wait time for Washington Road before they get on and add to its congestion. “Currently the line to Route 1 on Washington Road stretches for over a mile for many hours during the day. What can be done to help people find other routes and access the train station in a timely manner?” they ask.
While residents may feel their accounts are not being heard by the DOT, Mayor Hsueh and Ward say that are connecting with the DOT on a daily basis. But as of Wednesday, September 19, there were no plans for DOT officials to revisit Council and address the public at Council meetings on September 20 or Monday, October 1.
Joseph Dee, director of communications for the DOT, said that the department is aware of continuing issues in Penns Neck, but there will not be any amendments to the DOT’s plans for the lane closures around Washington Road. The state has chipped in by providing West Windsor with state troopers in patrol cars, but some residents say that the troopers have allowed illegal U-turns to continue without ticketing drivers.
Ward says that the DOT has made one significant addition in the way of signage: new “trailblazing” signs to assist drivers heading to either Princeton or the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.
Dee says that the first item the DOT planned to address was the only way drivers going down Route 1 southbound can access the Penns Neck area: Alexander Road. Both Dee and Ward say that cars coming off the jughandle have little time or room to make it from the extreme right to the left turn heading back on Route 1 north, and complaints had come from both residents and commuters about the potential for an accident.
At least one elected official is not interested in further discussions with the DOT. “It’s time NJDOT shut down the pilot project as unworkable,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. “I understand DOT’s efforts to improve traffic, but it should not be at the expense of local residents. Moreover, local businesses [including the Getty gas station at Washington Road and the Sunoco station at Harrison Street] are suffering.”