New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson wants residents and elected officials to weigh in quickly on the conceptual plan to ease traffic along Route 1 in West Windsor and Plainsboro.
"If we can get this (project) into the (federal transportation) program, if everyone buys into it, it will be a Herculean task," Simpson said. "So the message that I want to deliver to everybody here is get on board quickly or say no quickly."
Simpson spoke to a packed crowd at a breakfast meeting the Nassau Inn on Wednesday, hosted by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"This region is so critical to the Einstein Alley," Simpson said. "There is a lot happening here, we've got a lot of corporate folks here and new folks coming into the region. At some point, traffic is going to be a detriment, if it's not already."
DOT officials recently outlined a conceptual plan to local officials that would reconfigure the jughandles on Route 1 and improve commuter traffic, following a failed experiment to close the jughandles last summer.
It new idea would affect the section of Route 1 from the Dinky railroad overpass south of the Washington Road intersection to the Millstone River bridge just north of Harrison Street, according to Princeton Engineer Jack West.
DOT is requesting feedback from officials in Princeton, West Windsor, Lawrence and Plainsboro on the following changes:
- Widening Route 1 to four lanes in both directions.
- Eliminating the jughandles at Washington Road and Harrison Street.
- Eliminating the jughandle and traffic light at Fisher Place in Penns Neck.
- Constructing new jughandles on either side of Route 1 approximately halfway between the Washington Road and Harrison Street intersections.
- Constructing a partial circle and light at Route 1 and Washington Road so that drivers traveling south on Route 1 could turn left onto Route 571 towards the Princeton Junction train station.
The estimated $40 million project has no funding yet, Simpson said.
Princeton residents will have an opportunity to voice their opinions on the jughandle idea at the Feb. 25 Princeton Council meeting.
NJ DOT's experiment last fall to close the jughandles at Harrison Street and Washington Road was cut short after residents of the Penns Neck neighborhood in West Windsor protested over a massive traffic influx and commuters overrunning small residential streets in an effort to avoid traffic delays.
"From a traffic perspective, we moved people a lot quicker, and saved a lot of time," Simpson said, but he said the traffic problems in West Windsor and the commuting nightmares forced the end the trail before it was over.
With the new jughandle configuration, drivers headed north on Route 1 who want to get to downtown Princeton would use the new jughandle between Washington and Harrison, drive south on Route 1 for a short time before turning right onto Washington Road.
Simpson said that some Princeton businesses- including Jack Morrison's restaurants and The Peacock Inn, reported a decrease in business during last summer's jughandle trial. There was also more traffic on Alexander Road, in part because Mercer County officials closed Quaker Road (another artery into Princeton from Route 1) for the duration of the trial.
"Nobody told us (about Quaker Road), nor did we ask," Simpson said. "Something broke down and Quaker Road was closed and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' That worked against us."