ALLENTOWN – Acting on a recommendation from Mayor Thomas Fritts, the members of the Allentown Borough Council voted unanimously on Dec. 21 to delay sending a resolution in support of a traffic signal at South Main and High streets to Monmouth County officials until a county representative addresses the issue during a meeting on Feb. 8.
Two weeks earlier, on Dec. 7, council members voted 5-1 to support a Monmouth County plan to construct a traffic light at the intersection of South Main and High streets. Councilman Robert Strovinsky was the lone council member to vote “no” on the action.
Municipal officials have said that at certain times of the day, significant traffic backups occur at South Main and High streets. The situation is partially attributed to the fact that the campus containing Allentown High School and the Newell Elementary School is on High Street, not far from the intersection.
Officials acknowledged that at other times of the day there is not a traffic backup at the intersection and that a traffic signal could cause motorists to have to wait for a green signal where that is not the case at present with an unsignalized intersection.
When news of the council’s Dec. 7 vote came to the attention of the public, an outcry arose on social media. When the council met on Dec. 21, several residents spoke in opposition to the plan to construct the first traffic signal in Allentown’s history.
Prior to opening the public comment portion of the meeting, Fritts announced that a county representative would discuss the plan during a meeting on Feb. 8 and he asked the council members to hold off on sending the Dec. 7 resolution to the county.
Council President John A. Elder III, Councilman Michael Drennan, Councilman Dan Payson, Councilwoman Martha Johnson, Councilwoman Erica Torsiello and Strovinsky voted “yes” on a motion to hold the resolution.
“In hindsight, (the council’s action on Dec. 7) could have worked a little differently,” Fritts said. “What’s important is that we get it right. A lot of people in the community would like to see (a traffic signal). It doesn’t mean we aren’t open to other possibilities … (but) residents need to understand why the county will not do some things.”
When the meeting was opened to public comment, several residents addressed the issue.
Stefanie Archbald of High Street said a traffic signal “will destroy our property and our property values. At most times of the day the situation (at the intersection) is not so bad. We are unnecessarily clogging it up” with students driving to the high school.
Tim Larsen of South Main Street said he is “strongly opposed to a traffic light.” His concerns include fumes from idling vehicles, and red, yellow and green lights flashing in the windows of his home during the night.
“If safety is the issue, why isn’t a light being installed at (the intersection of) Church Street, Main Street and Waker Avenue? There are more accidents there than at High Street,” Larsen said.
Tom Monahan said, “We are taking our quaint little town and putting a traffic light in. You will change the town by putting a light there (at South Main and High streets).”
Monahan expressed concern that the presence of the traffic signal would lead to accidents at the intersection.
Regina Finn said the backups that occur at South Main and High streets “is a volume issue” related to the nearby school campus “for 25 minutes twice a day. This isn’t a problem that warrants a traffic light.”
“The (Upper Freehold Regional School District) can pay for someone to direct traffic at the corner and (the school district) can control the number of people who park at the school. These (traffic) lights will be in our windows in the dead quiet of night,” Finn said.
Allentown officials previously said the design and construction of a traffic signal at South Main and High streets would be a process that would likely take between 18 months and two years to complete. Both streets are under the jurisdiction of Monmouth County.
In addition to the construction of a full traffic signal, borough officials said the county’s work at the intersection would be expected to include improvements to what was described as a serious drainage problem at that location.
During a presentation to borough officials and members of the public on Dec. 7, Borough Engineer Carmela Roberts said statistics from 2017 indicated 20,000 vehicles per day pass through the intersection of South Main and High streets.
Delays at the location at some times of the day can reach 300 seconds (five minutes) and the intersection operates at an F level of service, which Roberts said is the worst level of service on a scale of A to F.
“There are more than enough (criteria) to justify the construction of a traffic signal. There would be no changes to the geometry of the intersection and the county would fix and improve storm drainage at the corner,” Roberts said.
A traffic signal could reduce the wait at the most congested times of the day from 300 seconds to about 35 seconds, she said.