After bucking concerns about traffic on Union Avenue with vehicles being able to make lefts out of a proposed CVS on the corner of Union and Finderne, the applicant has promised, if approved, that it will take responsibility for making road improvements that the NJDOT has so far been unable to afford.
Gary Dean, traffic engineer with the applicant, informed the zoning board of these plans Tuesday, saying that since CVS was last before the board in March, representatives have met with the New Jersey Department of Transportation and Somerset County to work out the kinks in the plan.
The original proposal was for a CVS on the corner of Finderne and Union avenues.
The county has jurisdiction over Finderne Avenue, while the state DOT owns Union Avenue.
The original plan from CVS included allowing for right in and right out access on Union, but full access to make a left or a right out of the driveway onto Finderne.
“The access would be designed to restrict the driveway to right turn in and right turn out movement only on Union,” Dean said. “There would be a full movement driveway on Finderne.”
But, Dean said, the county refused to permit left turns from the site onto Finderne Avenue because of safety reasons, and the DOT also said they would not be allowed on Union.
“[Restricting left turns] would make it impractical to have a successful development,” he said.
Dean said that in meetings with the DOT over the summer, CVS representatives were told that the intersection of Union and Finderne has been labeled as having one of the highest accident histories in the township.
“In the absence of any dedicated left turn lane on Union for traffic to turn onto Finderne, it is not uncommon for people to stop short,” he said. “Another individual thinks they are going straight, and they have a rear-end collision.”
But, Dean said, although this problem has been high on the DOT’s list of improvements, the money has not been available to make the change. So CVS said it would take care of it.
“It has been on their list of things when they have the money to revise the intersection with striping and signaling to improve it,” he said. “The DOT had no money to do it, and the county had none.”
“But in the negotiations, the applicant has agreed to advance this project through DOT and the county to make the intersection improvements they want,” he added. “With that safety improvement recognized at that intersection, we appealed again to the county.”
Basically, Dean said, per approval from the township zoning board, if CVS is moving forward with the new location, it will pay all the costs of creating a dedicated left turn lane on both sides of Union Avenue, as well as signal and other changes that go along with the improvements.
The county planning board, Dean said, gave the endorsement of the plan, and said they would not prohibit left turns on Finderne if the applicant completes all improvements to the satisfaction of the DOT.
“We will fully fund it and have it operational as part of the development of the site,” he said.
Dean said it will be a dedicated left turn lane, a single uniform lane, with the middle area having a dedicated stripe for a left turn lane.
“The signal will require some modifications, it has to be upgraded to standards,” he said. “It will be safer and more efficient keeping left turn movements in its own dedicated lane. There will be less driver frustration and fix ambiguity as one goes through the intersection.”
In response to a question from zoning board chairman William Vornehm, Dean said there will be approximately eight or nine cars able to fit in the left turn lane, maybe fewer if there is a truck.
The addition of the new lane on Union will also eliminate a lane on the road, but there will still be the main lane and the shoulder to drive in.
Board member Donald Sweeney said he is concerned about that elimination of a lane.
“Your latest plan shows one lane at the point of entrance into CVS as opposed to the two lanes,” he said. “Given the previous plan, if someone slowed down to enter the site, they could go into the right lane and people would pass in the second. Now, where are they going to go, other than into them?”
Dean said there is still a five-foot shoulder with the 12-foot wide lane, so there is room for cars to pass around when someone drives into the shoulder to turn into the CVS.
“This same scenario exists for every single driveway from there to Somerville, where there is one lane and a shoulder,” he said.
But Sweeney said he is still concerned about people trying to combat two lanes of traffic in addition to people making the left turns off Union Avenue after they turn out of the CVS.
As for the light at Finderne, Dean said there will probably be a change to make that light stay green a little longer, but specifics have not been worked out yet.
“If we lengthen the cycle and give more green time, there is more red time too on Union Avenue,” he said. “That has queuing issues too. We will make the signal work with as much time as possible. We will go through the design process to strike the right balance.”
Marie Hughes, executive director of the People Care Center on Finderne Avenue, said she is concerned about adding another business to that road with more than 180 children around, and cars going in and out of the building all day as parents drop their kids off there.
“I see thousand of cars going by in all lanes,” she said. “We want to object in general because this seems to be an overly intense use, and will have negative impact on the neighborhood and traffic.”
Hughes said she often sees people having to wait more than five minutes just to make a right turn onto Finderne, and she can’t imagine that adding another business will help matters.
“I think that allowing people to make a left hand turn on Finderne is asking for trouble all the time,” she said. “I am disappointed that the county approved of that.”
On the other hand, Diane Baldwin, with New Jersey Eastern Star Home on Finderne Avenue, said she would welcome the new business, and especially the new lane on Union Avneue.
“I am pleased about the changes,” she said. “I have been making that eastbound turn on Route 28, and I welcome the idea of a green arrow. I have always wished they would do that.”
Vornehm said that the board’s decision on whether to approve the application will not necessarily hinge on the offer made by CVS to add the left turn lane.
“In this particular case, the application hinged from their perspective on whether or not they could [get approval for left turns],” he said. “That particular change, though, is not a reason for us to approve it. But there were traffic concerns expressed. They’ve shown a way to deal with those, and we get to judge whether that satisfies the issues.”
The board declined to continue deliberation on the application, per request of the applicant, because it only had five eligible voting members in attendance.
The application has been continued to Oct. 30, when the board also plans to hear from a township engineer on the traffic issue before possibly making its decision.