ALLENTOWN – Residents of Allentown spent two hours asking questions and offering comments about the possible construction of the first traffic signal in the borough.
During a meeting of the mayor and Borough Council on Feb. 8 that was held on Zoom during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, residents presented their thoughts to Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore and Monmouth County Traffic Engineer Supervisor Michael Nei.
At issue is the possible construction of a traffic signal at the intersection of South Main and High streets, which are both county roads.
Municipal officials have said that at certain times of the day, significant traffic backups occur at the intersection.
The situation is partially attributed to the fact that a campus that houses Allentown High School and the Newell Elementary School is on High Street, not far from the intersection, and to trucks that pass through the borough each day on their way to and from warehouses in communities that border Allentown.
Officials have 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 light when that is not the case at present with an unsignalized intersection.
The only official action taken thus far regarding the matter was a 5-1 vote by council members on Dec. 7 to support a county plan to construct a traffic signal at the intersection. Robert Strovinsky, who is no longer on the council, voted “no” on the motion to pass the resolution.
There is no specific design for a traffic signal at this time. Ettore and Nei said a basic design would include several poles to support the traffic signals, plus other equipment.
Participating in the meeting were Mayor Thomas Fritts, Borough Council President John A. Elder III, Councilman Michael Drennan, Councilman Dan Payson, Councilwoman Martha Johnson, Councilwoman Nikki Darling and Councilwoman Erica DeKranes (previously Torsiello).
Ettore began his presentation by stating that the intersection of South Main and High streets has “serious and long-standing traffic issues. We looked at several alternatives … we want to make certain the solutions are respectful” of Allentown’s history.
Nei said county officials considered constructing a roundabout at the intersection and making the intersection a multi-way stop. He said both of those alternatives were dismissed.
The plan being considered for the intersection would not include the addition of dedicated turn lanes on either street. South Main Street would have a green light while High Street has a red light and vice versa, Nei said.
The traffic signal could be timed to allow lead time for turns, and to remain green on South Main Street during times of the day or night when there are no vehicles approaching the intersection on High Street, he said.
Nei said the intersection meets multiple criteria (technically referred to as warrants) that would permit the installation of a traffic signal. Pedestrian signals at the intersection would facilitate the safety of children walking to and from the high school-elementary school campus, he said.
The existing level of service at the intersection is rated as F (on a scale of A to F). The wait times during a peak hour is 300 seconds (five minutes). The level of service with a traffic signal would be rated as D, with a wait time during a peak hour on High Street of 35 seconds, Nei said.
At present, there is a stop sign on High Street. Motorists on High Street who wish to turn left or right onto South Main Street must wait for a break in traffic to complete a turn. Motorists on South Main Street who wish to turn left onto High Street must wait for a break in oncoming traffic to complete the turn, which can lead to a backup of vehicles behind the vehicle that is waiting to turn.
Public comment began at 7:30 p.m. and continued until 9:20 p.m. The speakers who addressed Ettore and Nei were primarily residents of South Main and High streets.
The residents raised issues including the red and green traffic signals shining into their homes, the difficulty they would have getting out of their driveway and the loss of Allentown’s historic integrity.
Resident John Fabiano said, “I am so depressed right now that anyone is thinking of putting an intrusion at this intersection. What precipitated this now? We have been living with this for 30 years.”
Fabiano, who is the executive director of the Monmouth County Historical Commission, said the State Historic Preservation Office may have a say in the approval of a traffic signal in Allentown.
Ettore said improvements that are being constructed on Sharon Station Road in neighboring Upper Freehold Township “will not divert enough traffic from South Main and High streets to negate the need for the traffic signal.”
He said the Sharon Station Road project is behind schedule and currently expected to be completed in December. Ettore said vehicle movement in the region would be re-evaluated when the project has been completed.
Upper Freehold Regional School District Superintendent of Schools Mark Guterl joined the discussion and said, “The school district is a partner with the town. We recognize we are part of the problem” and want to work with the borough to address the issues.
Resident Jan Meerwarth said, “The historic district was put in place 40 years ago. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t think a light is warranted. It’s an intrusion (on Allentown).” She said many people “are OK if it takes an extra five minutes to get through (the intersection) … I don’t think that is an impossible situation.”
Resident Jennifer Brady said, “We need to consider another exit for the high school and the elementary school to handle the school traffic and a bypass to handle the truck traffic.”
Resident Kemani Scott said, “A light and pedestrian improvements will keep people safe. I appreciate the historical aspect … but one traffic light is not going to wipe away all our rich history and degrade the town … It is one traffic light.”
In response to a question regarding making the traffic signal a blinking red light on High Street (full stop) and a blinking yellow light on South Main Street (no stop) during non-rush hours, Nei said that course of action was followed years ago.
Nei said current technology would more likely result in a steady green light on South Main Street during non-rush hours and a steady red light on High Street until a vehicle is detected, which would cause the light to turn green on High Street and red on South Main Street.
Ettore noted that the traffic signal that is under discussion is not currently funded by the county.
No decision regarding the traffic signal was reached on Feb. 8. Fritts said the discussion is likely to continue during a future meeting of the mayor and council.