In what seems to be a growing movement against the Route 1 jughandle closures, a resident of Penns Neck in West Windsor has launched an online petition asking the New Jersey Department of Transportation to end the 12-week pilot program.
The closures- which prohibit drivers from turning left off Route 1 north at Washington Road and Harrison Street- aim to reduce congestion along Route 1 north through Lawrenceville, West Windsor and Plainsboro.
If the trial- which began in early August- is a success, the state plans to close jughandles permanently.
But what confuses many people is that DOT representatives have never specified what would determine the project’s success or failure. Many residents see only failure.
“The NJDOT implemented the jughandle closures as a pilot program and the general consensus is that the pilot program has failed,” wrote resident Eric Payne, who launched the online petition. “Closing the jughandles in itself does not and will not solve the problem inherent to the Washington Rd – Route 1 area. The three other projects that must be completed are:
- Harrison St overpass
- Vaughn Dr. connector in Princeton Junction
- Widening of Alexander Road Bridge over the Stony Brook Canal
Payne continues; “Implementing jughandle closures without coordinating other solutions has greatly diminished the quality of life for the residents of Penn’s Neck, increased travel time and cost for anyone needing to make a left turn to exit Route 1 at Washington Rd and Harrison St, forces drivers to cross four lanes of traffic and a solid white line to make a simple U-turn at Alexander Road putting them in danger, prevented emergency vehicles from being able to safely navigate the road way, has increased the number of accidents and incidents for the entire area and has not substantially increased the flow of traffic on Route 1 as intended.”
By Sunday night, Payne’s petition had 227 online signatures.
Fifth -generation Penns Neck resident Susan Parris, who lives at Washington and Fairview, signed the petition.
She said despite DOT’s no U-turn signs on every street, at least 50 drivers a day are making illegal U-turns in residential driveways: not just cars, but also tractor trailers, tour busses, even moving vans. There have been eight accidents in her neighborhood since the trial began, she said.
Because local streets don’t have sidewalks or curbs, residents have basically canceled Halloween because they don’t want to let their kids outside with all the traffic problems, Parris said.
A recent meeting with West Windsor officials, residents and two representatives from the DOT yielded little results, she said.
“They listened but said “We can do what we want and we’re here as a courtesy,” Parris remembered. “They’re dismissive, nasty, condescending to us and respond to nobody. Everything that comes out of (DOT Spokesman) Joseph Dee’s mouth is, “It’s not a big enough problem.”
She said closing the jughandles only benefits the six miles of Route 1 between Route 95 and College Road in Plainsboro.
“We’re pretty much convinced this is a favor to a development or corporate interest in Plainsboro and they’re not going to give up on it,” Parris said. “They keep saying, ‘If we see problems, we’ll end it.’ But apparently eight accidents and tractor trailers trying to turn around in our driveways is not a problem.”
Parris said DOT spotters were in the area counting cars in August, then disappeared until two days during last week.
“One of them made a U-Turn and parked on my lawn,” Parris said. “I told her to leave, so she pulled across Washington Road, onto Wilder, ran a stop sign on at Wilder and Varsity, made a U-Turn and parked on Wilder. And this was all done in front of the (West Windsor) mayor, 15 residents and a reporter from WHYY.”
Parris called the DOT after that incident. She was told the woman in question was not a DOT employee, just a contractor hired by DOT.
This is not the first call for an immediate end to the jughandle trial.
On Sept. 19, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora asked DOT Commissioner James Simpson to halt it immediately, saying the project has led to more illegal U-Turns and K-Turns in the Penns Neck neighborhood and a decline in sales at local gas stations.
NJ DOT Spokesman Joe Dee told Patch that he appreciated Gusciora’s statement, but the pilot program would continue, albeit with beefed up state police patrols in Penn’s Neck and more signage in the area
“We have not seen anything that would stop this pilot program in its tracks,” Dee said on Sept. 19. “We promised if there were unintended consequences so severe that it needed to be stopped we would, but we’re not seeing that. We need to give people more time to adjust their routes.”
Again, Dee said the jughandle closures would continue.
Patch contacted NJ DOT on Sunday to find out what consequences would be so severe that they would require an immediate end to the jughandle pilot program. A message promised that an on-call press person would respond, but no one returned the call.