DOT Commissioner James Simpson arrived in Penns Neck on Saturday afternoon with welcome news to most area residents; he is calling an immediate end to the 12-week trial closure of the jughandles at the Washington Road and Harrison Street intersections with Route 1.
The barrels, barricades and signs will be removed as soon as possible, probably starting in the next couple of days, Simpson told residents.
By 10 p.m. on Saturday, nearby residents were already reporting the signs and cones had been removed.
Drivers will also be allowed to make right turns from Route 1 north onto Varsity Avenue and Fisher Place, and left from Route 1 south at Fisher Place and Washington Road.
The announcement came during a protest by neighbors in the Penns Neck neighborhood, just north of Route 1 towards the Princeton Junction train station.
For weeks, neighbors have been telling both local and state officials about the problems on their local roads, including thousands of U-Turns and K-Turns on their streets, on their lawns and in their driveways. Tractor-trailers, looking for a shortcut, were a regular sight on these neighborhood roads, residents said.
But it seemed like few were listening until Sanja Dimic, who lives at the corner of Wilder and Washington Roads, noticed a car stopped on Wilder Road outside of her home on Wednesday.
"I walked out and said 'Are you lost, do you need directions to get into Princeton? We want our neighborhood back, will you sign our petition?" "And he stuck out his hand and said, 'Hi, I'm Commissioner Simpson,'" Dimic told Patch on Saturday.
Neighbors in the close-knit community quickly learned of Simpson's arrival and walked out to tell him about the problems over the past two months.
"Surprisingly, he said he hadn't received any of the hundreds of emails we've sent to DOT," Dimic said.
Before Simpson left that day, he passed around his business card to residents and asked them to contact him directly.
They did. And it seems the Commissioner listened. He arrived to meet with residents at about 12:45 p.m. on Saturday.
"I received a call from the Mayor saying that the Commissioner was coming over," Penns Neck resident Tamerra Moeller said on Saturday afternoon. "He arrived and said they were calling an end to the experiment because of its negative impacts on Penns Neck.
"He said the Christie administration was trying to be responsive to its citizens," she said.
In a press release sent on Saturday evening, Simpson wrote that the trial program will be fully dismantled within a week.
“We told local officials, residents and other stakeholders in the Princetons, West Windsor and Plainsboro that we would terminate the trial prior to its scheduled 12-week duration if we became convinced that unintended consequences could not be satisfactorily mitigated," Simpson wrote. "We are making good on that promise today.”
Despite the frustrations neighbors have experienced since the jughandle closures went up in August, they said Simpson was very gracious during his visit on Saturday. And they're pleased officials listened to their concerns.
"I'm elated," said Sue Parris, who lives on Washington Road. "It was true community organization."
DOT's decision comes after several calls to end the jughandle trial.
On Sept. 18 Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who represents West Windsor, asked the DOT to immediately end the trial. Later, both the Mercer County Freeholders and the West Windsor Township Council made the same request.
Moeller said Simpson told the group on Saturday that closing the jughandles did accomplish one goal: improving travel times along Route 1, which can become congested along Route 1 during rush hour when drivers at the two intersections queue up to turn left at Washington Road and Harrison Street.
But by closing access into Princeton from Route 1 north, traffic into Princeton was forced onto Alexander Road with commuters regularly reporting miles-long backups into town. Commuters driving home from the train at Princeton Junction also reported long backups and delays to cross Route 1.
Exacerbating the problem was the county's decision to close Quaker Road for repairs through February. Quaker Road is an often-traveled route between Mercer Street and Route 1.
Simpson said he made numerous unannounced visits to observe the area traffic conditions during the jughandle trial.
“Unfortunately, the trial disrupted the Penns Neck neighborhood with additional traffic and created safety concerns," he wrote. "Our efforts to resolve those issues and guide motorists to the Scudders Mill interchange were unsuccessful. Increased congestion along Alexander Street in Princeton was also a concern.”
He plans to work with stakeholders to find a long-term solution to Route 1 traffic congestion.
Some suggestions have included extending West Windsor’s Vaughn Drive to Washington Road, widening the Mercer County-owned bridge that spans the Delaware & Raritan Canal on Alexander Road and building an overpass near the intersection of Route 1 and Harrison Street.
The residents of Penns Neck had planned to hold another protest demonstration on Oct. 20, but plans have changed.
"I think we'll have a party now," Sue Parris said.