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Cyclists and Pedestrians Upset New Route 18 Interchange Will Not Include Sidewalks

City Officials Say They Requested Sidewalks Be Added to The Design to No Avail
Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Some people are upset about more than just the traffic jams caused by the continuing re-construction of New Brunswick's main artery, Route 18.

NJ Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is currently working to destroy and replace two three-lane bridges that carry Route 18 over US Highway 1 in New Brunswick.

The northbound bridge is to be replaced by a wider one, as the northbound shoulder on the right of Route 18 will become an active travel lane between Westons Mill Pond and Route 1.

Route 18's notorious northbound ramp to southbound Route 1, a sharp cloverleaf curve that has been the site of several overturned truck trailers, will also be reconfigured in this project.

This stretch of 18 is a well-traveled path, seeing about 100,000 vehicles a day.

The $28.4 million project was paid for by the federal government, and the idea is to reduce congestion on the stretch of Route 18 between Route 1 and The NJ Turnpike's Exit 9, as well as to make this part of the road safer.

But, despite the benefits for motorists, the plans have some advocates of walking and biking worried.  They say the intersection already has a fair amount of brave pedestrians and cyclists that the new plans should include accomodations for each under the state's "Complete Streets" policy.

A complete streets policy requires that transportation infrastructure engineers consider pedestrians and cyclists when planning out roads.

Because not enough pedestrians crossed the road, according to the engineers' counts, the state DOT is refusing to insert a traffic signal or a crosswalk - they see no need to lower the speed of the motoring public in order for it to be safe for pedestrians to cross.

NJDOT did not respond to New Brunswick Today's inquiries about the decision to include no places for cyclists or pedestrians in the new design.  Residents who attended a presentation about the construction project last month said engineers did not have answers at an August 5 public meeting held just as construction was set to begin.

At the meeting, traffic engineers stated that they realized that there was no safe access across Route 1 for several miles, shrugging it off as something they had no control over.

While a DOT engineer agreed that the current bridge was unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, he claimed that the DOT couldn't add pedestrian or bicycle facilities because it would "require expanding the scope of work."

When asked why they couldn't put a sidewalk inside the current project, they essentially said that they didn't want to encourage walking or bicycling. 

Nonetheless, the DOT would replace the small sidewalk on the south side of the bridge, contrary to their previous logic.

New Brunswick officials say they asked about sidewalks shortly before the August meeting, which was itself held just two weeks before the planned start of construction.

That meeting also conflicted with another, larger public event, National Night Out, that tied up parking behind City Hall, making it difficult for some to attend the DOT meeting.

The demolition of the old bridges and erection of the new ones will occur over weekends later in the project, with two lanes of traffic being maintained on Highway 18, in each direction. This way, the NJDOT hopes to keep traffic impacts to a minimum. 

Drainage, lighting, and Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) components will also be upgraded along the short stretch of highway. The contractor doing the work is Anselmi & DeCicco, Inc.

Pieces of the new bridges will be manufactured off-site and installed, helping to speed construction.

The intelligent transportation system might include a set of variable message signs, while existing signs will tell motorists about ongoing work and changes in traffic patterns. 

The DOT anticipates completion of the project in Spring 2016. However, the work schedule might change due to the weather, as well as other issues, events, or incidents.

The NJDOT encourages motorists to check the NJDOT traffic information website, www.511nj.org , for real-time traffic updates.