West Windsor Township was relieved of problems caused by the DOT’s jughandle closures over 10 weeks, as the pilot project came to a screeching halt on Saturday, October 13, when DOT Commissioner James Simpson showed up on Washington Road to announce the official end of the project. At West Windsor’s Council meeting two days later, residents thanked their municipal government for cooperating with them to change the DOT’s plan.
John Church of 11 Princeton Place said it is great that the jughandles are open and West Windsor is “back to where we were. I’m reminded of an old Alka Seltzer ad — pop, pop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!”
About 20 residents of the Penns Neck area — including the founders of the citizen’s group Smarter Traffic Solutions, which planned the rally on October 13 that preceded the commissioner’s announcement — came before Council on October 15 to express thanks and hear what might be in store next for their neighborhood.
Tamerra Moeller of 201 Varsity Avenue, who along with Eric Payne and Susan Parris led Penns Neck residents’ opposition to the DOT program, highlighted the collaboration that brought about the end of the jughandle closures.
“West Windsor’s engineering and tax assessment departments helped us, and Director of Community Development Pat Ward worked long hours on our behalf and served as an intelligent liaison between our citizens group, the police, the mayor, and the NJ DOT. Council gave us a forum to express our initial suggestions to the DOT, and later passed a resolution supporting our efforts. Political parties were set aside. Council Vice President Linda Geevers secured tables at the two high schools on back to school nights — a critical move in our communicating with the rest of West Windsor. George Borek immediately sized up the traffic situation and communicated with the police. Bryan Maher suggested a demonstration, which is where we all were when Commissioner Simpson announced the end of the closures,” Moeller said.
Mayor Hsueh’s efforts — starting with his organization of local mayors and sending letters to the DOT, and culminating with a meeting with Commissioner Simpson and DOT staff on Thursday, October 11 — were appreciated. Moeller and her husband, Jim, each spoke during public comments, and they told the crowd it was Hsueh’s direct interaction with Simpson that “got this thing resolved.”
As a result, Jim Moeller said his perspective of local government has changed. “I often thought that government is an adversarial type of position that you have to hold, but I found out that it’s probably not the way to go. We worked very closely with the mayor and council, and we essentially got the commissioner to come visit Penns Neck on Wednesday, October 10,” he said.
Moeller gave an example of Simpson’s surprising involvement. A motorist coming from the train station along Washington Road puller their car over, got out, and approached Simpson.
“He addressed the commissioner and just said ‘look, this is so terrible that I’m thinking very seriously of using another train station.’ What was interesting was Commissioner Simpson’s response — it was very positive in the sense that he whipped out his business card and told the motorist to write him and E-mail him about his point of view. It seems that after that point things resolved very quickly,” Moeller said.
David Parris of 207 Washington Road (Susan Parris’ husband) thanked the administration, including Business Administrator Marlena Schmid, plus the West Windsor Police, who he said were very patient in helping residents and protecting their safety.
“My wife and I want to continue to be part of the solution, as we always have. I’ve served on the Central Jersey Transportation Forum for a number of years and I’m willing to continue doing that so long as they will have me,” Parris said.
Councilman Borek credited the residents of Penns Neck for their collective effort, calling them “true champions.”
“You were burdened by the daily negative effects of the project, but you persisted and persevered. This should be a model for all communities that when you put all your resources together and we all work in the same way, you can achieve the great things like you achieved on Saturday,” Borek said.
Mayor Hsueh said that this example — where he attended a residents’ meeting and they heeded his advice on how to approach the DOT — clearly shows what can be achieved when residents work with government. Hsueh helped the residents conceive ideas such as letters to the commissioner, reports in local newspapers and social media, and Pat Ward even edited the petition that went on Change.org.
After several phone calls and E-mail exchanges at the start of October, Mayor Hsueh says Simpson eventually asked him for his input into what can be done, and the mayor responded with the three improvements that have been discussed over the years: the overpass at Harrison Street, the Vaughn Drive Connector to Route 1, and the widening of the Alexander Road bridge over Route 1.
Hsueh, who called this point in time “a beginning, not an end,” was scheduled to meet again with area mayors on Thursday, October 18, (after the WW-P News print deadline).
“We’re going to discuss some of the things that can be done, and on October 11 Commissioner Simpson also brought some of the DOT’s design engineers to discuss this with me. I feel very optimistic — things will be done and it’s not going to be another 20 years of the same,” Hsueh said.
Hsueh added that anything that changes along the Route 1 corridor will go farther than just impacting West Windsor for the better.
“It will make a difference for the whole region and the whole state, because I know Governor Christie is expecting this area to become an economic engine for the state. We definitely would try to work with the governor to accomplish that,” Hsueh said.
Building Their Case. With the DOT’s jughandle experiment entering its final few weeks, West Windsor residents had planned demonstrations in Penns Neck — the scene of nine motor vehicle accidents, hundreds of illegal K-turns and U-turns, as well as traffic nightmares.
Eric Payne of 237 Washington Road led the charge by starting a petition on Change.org at the end of September and by heading up meetings at West Windsor’s senior center, including a gathering on September 27 where Mayor Hsueh outlined his strategy. Payne, whose family has resided in Penns Neck for almost 100 years, also led the campaign to get the DOT’s attention through letters and articles in the local media.
On Tuesday, October 9, Payne instructed potential protesters to bring signs and voice a united message.
“Remember to make it clear that one of our ultimate goals is to have all of the lights on Route 1 removed in the Penns Neck area as opposed to this pathetic Band-Aid. They should not accept the NJDOT cheap, quick fix that does not work or improve anything,” Payne says.
Commissioner Simpson paid another visit to Penns Neck during the week of October 8. His earlier visit on October 1 was known only by Police Chief Joe Pica, but this time residents caught up to him. Catherine “Camie” Anico wrote a mass E-mail to let her neighbors know that Simpson said he had not received any letters from people who are angered over the DOT project.
Before he left, Anico went up to Simpson and asked him a question. “I looked him directly in the eye and asked him if this was a done deal to which he said ‘No, not at all, not at all.’ I’d like to believe him, but I’m doubtful.” But by October 13 those doubts were erased. The barricades blocking the jughandes were removed within days.