Roadway construction projects, redevelopment rumblings, and municipal budget matters topped the topics Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh discussed at his town hall meeting on May 19.
Residents seemed to be most concerned with the appearance of Route 571, as well as traffic improvements to be made along the road. Hsueh recalled a presentation given by the county in December revealing the layout of the road.
The plans depicted three lanes — one in each direction and a center turning lane — and sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the roadway from its intersection with Wallace and Cranbury roads, east to its intersection with Clarksville Road, where 154 car accidents occurred between 2005 and 2007 alone. The plan also proposes crosswalks and other pedestrian-friendly improvements.
Plans also depicted two lanes in each direction at the three major intersections on Route 571: Cranbury and Wallace roads, Alexander Road, and Clarksville Road — which would taper down to one lane after each intersection. The redesign of the road between Clarksville and Cranbury and Wallace roads was submitted by the council and approved by the county. Officials are currently assessing costs for right-of-way and determining the source of funding for the project, Hsueh said.
He said the county is working on the designs, despite opposition from one group of residents who argued that the plans, created four years ago, did not reflect current state policies and guidelines for bicycle, pedestrian, and motorist safety. However, Hsueh expressed confidence in the plans and said he did not want to see the project delayed as long as the Grovers Mill Pond dredging and Alexander Road roundabout projects, which took 50 and 40 years to come to fruition, respectively.
With regard to Route 571’s intersection with Cranbury and Wallace, Hsueh told the audience that the intersection has been redesigned with new pedestrian-friendly crossings, as part of an agreement with the state, county, and township. The project also includes crosswalks in every direction, countdown timers on traffic lights, and a dedicated left turn lane coming off of the bridge eastbound, turning onto Cranbury Road.
On the eastbound side of the Route 571 bridge, the state has approved using the eastbound side of the bridge as a pedestrian crossing with a sidewalk on the other side of the bridge, leading to Station Drive and a crosswalk to get to the sidewalk on the south side of Washington Road. This project is scheduled for construction by the state Department of Transportation this year, Hsueh said.
Plans for road construction were not the only parts of Route 571 that got attention during the meeting. Hsueh told residents that they are going to start seeing the removal of the school buses parking at the school bus depot on the corner of Route 571 and Wallace Road. This is because the township has received a grant from the state Economic Development Authority to perform a preliminary assessment for contamination, and township officials are preparing to begin the work, Hsueh said. The township hopes to turn the property into a small community park.
Residents asked mostly about the plans for the future Rite Aid site on the corner of Cranbury Road and Route 571, where vacant buildings remain boarded up. One resident said the township had requested demolition, which the Dreher Group, owner of the site, had reportedly agreed to do. “Specifically, do we have any assurances that those buildings will be knocked down in the near future?” David Bivins asked.
Hsueh said that he called Rite Aid’s vice president of real estate, who told him that “they do have the budget to start the project in the next two to three months.” Hsueh said the developer would need to obtain a permit to do the work, and that he told the company that the township would sign off on and expedite the process.
With regard to other redevelopment-related news, Hsueh reported to residents that Cyzner Properties had purchased the former Acme site and has already provided a concept of a new facade for the shopping center.
With regard to the parking garage at the Princeton Junction train station, Hsueh said New Jersey Transit’s plans to submit a request for proposals to construct a garage on site have been delayed. Under former Governor Jon Corzine, NJT was targeting March for sending out the RFP, but that has been delayed, Hsueh said.
Hsueh said he finally was able to meet with the executive director. “As much as they can, they will work with the township, but there are certain things they will need to do their way.” This is because NJT would be building on state-owned property at the Princeton Junction train station, and it is not required by law to seek township approval.
Hsueh said he has asked NJT officials to make a presentation in the future to the township about its plans for the site. Hsueh said he did not know when NJT would be resuming plans for the garage, sine officials there are still dealing with the recent train fare hikes and new schedules.
Hsueh also discussed the budget. The township has been hit with a $200,000 increase by the Stonybrook Regional Sewerage Authority and an increase of $150,000 the township is required to pay into the state pension system, Hsueh said, adding that despite this, the increase in the municipal budget was minimal.
Hsueh criticized Governor Chris Christie’s proposal to cap property tax increases by 2.5 percent. West Windsor is one of the fastest growing communities in the entire region, if not the whole state.
“This 2.5 percent doesn’t take into account this population increase,” he said. “We really need to think of other implications, like inflation and growth,” Hsueh added. Since he has been mayor, he has not added any positions to the township staff, despite the large population increase, he said. “I think the township is operated in a highly-effective manner.”