“Lambertville is a drive-to city, not a drive-through city,” Mayor Julia Fahl said of the proposed changes to Route 29 during the special city council meeting Monday evening at the Phillip L. Pittore Justice Center.
Fahl delved into a brief history of the plan, which began in 2001 with a direct request from the City of Lambertville to the state of New Jersey asking for Route 29 to be slowed down, and the city and New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) could not reach an agreement. Around that time, a second effort with public hearings and a city committee also “basically failed,” according to the mayor.
Then, in 2018, former mayor David Del Vecchio, Fahl and city council again asked the state to slow down Route 29, and NJDOT finally agreed.
“This is not the project that everybody wants, but this is the project that will make Lambertville a safer city,” Fahl admitted.
When the mayor turned Monday night’s presentation over to city engineer Patrick Galla of T&M Associates, he spoke quickly, moving north to south, showing where the road would become one lane in each direction. Galla delineated each part of the project a second time, beginning in the south, but did not get very far. Audience members interrupted, zeroing in on the egress from the Laceworks complex, the closing of median breaks and the apparent lack and safety of u-turn options.
City engineer Andy Heinrich joined Galla and clarified, “Of the four median breaks that exist today along this section of Route 29, the only one that will remain open is the one at Weeden Street.”
Some attendees were apprehensive over the only u-turn, and some recommended a second u-turn option on the south end of town on the border with West Amwell. If the road is only one-lane each way, a person making a u-turn is “going to stack up everybody behind them,” an audience member stated.
“This is an extremely dangerous road that affects the lived experience of people on both sides of Route 29, and so if there is something that can’t be done and this is going to cause a clog, but makes this a safer road, that’s going to be the way we weigh this decision,” Fahl interjected.
Fahl mentioned that this is the first part of this project, and will also allow a conservative estimate of 50 total additional parking spaces, but did not want to mark the spots yet because, “there was disagreement whether or not that provides you with more or less parking.”
Heinrich backed that up, highlighting that the state has to finish this plan first before looking at additional measures like putting up a crosswalk at Feeder Street or other options like vegetation in the medians.
Another audience question related to the traffic light area at Swan Street remaining status quo.
“If we start tampering around with the traffic signal, that starts to bring up the prices up as well,” Heinrich replied. “That’s why the project is starting immediately south of the signal to get people down to two lanes.”
One of the final public comments came from a resident of Mt. Hope and S. Main streets who observed that people driving on S. Main street, “can sometimes trap a car across the two lanes of [Route 29],” referring to vehicles turning left onto Mt. Hope from northbound side of Route 29, and suggested moving the proposed stop signs to the north side of South Main and Mt. Hope, instead of the stop signs on the south side of the intersection.
Fahl set an aggressive deadline of finishing “before school starts this year,” with a secondary goal of by National Walk and Bike to School Day on Oct. 2, 2019.
Once the venture is completed, the NJDOT will do a six-month study and provide the city with some additional guidance, which could involve speed changes. The mayor hinted at stationing more city police officers on the southern entrance of the city during this study phase.
NJDOT Supervisor Engineer Syed Kazmi said that after that period, “We’ll probably go 5-10 miles per hour lower than what we have now — we’ll have to see how it goes.” Kazmi and Heinrich estimated that on the northbound side, space to park should increase from about 7 feet to 11 feet, with more possible on the southbound side.
The mayor highlighted that as a state road, costs for this fall on the state, except for the fees the city had to pay their engineers to work on the conceptualization of the road diet.
Finally, Kazmi said he would again look at citizen concerns on the u-turn at the southern entrance to the city before proceeding.
Fahl thanked City Clerk Cindy Ege as well as city council for their work on the issue over the years.
The next regular governing body meeting will be on Thurs. July 18 at 7 p.m. at the Justice Center.
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