Concerns over the planned Route 206 expansion resurface

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    BYRAM-Byram officials remain unconvinced that a proposed state plan to expand lanes on Route 206 through the center of town will alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow. In a letter to the Department of Transportation this week, the township council is requesting that DOT "re-examine(s) the goals and outcomes" of the plan to widen Route 206 from two to four lanes for 1.2 miles from Acorn Street to the vicinity of Waterloo Village near the Byram Plaza off Lackawanna Road. "There's concern about this project," said councilman Earl Riley. "This letter will create discussion." In its recently completed master plan, the township cites a 2004 transportation study that concludes adding more traffic lanes to Route 206 is at best a temporary solution to the increased traffic flow of the section of the highway. The plan goes on to accept the Sussex County report that "bigger roads typically attract more development, more traffic, and more congestion." The township wants to explore a scaled-down version of the project that realigns the intersection of Waterloo and Brookwood roads where traffic backs up. Both roads are scheduled to be widened to consist of a right-turn lane and a shared left-turn and through lanes. Work is scheduled to begin next year. "At every point of this project, we have believed the realignment must occur and that ‘smart' lights must be put in," said councilwoman Donna Griff. "There are certain points of this project we all agree upon." The township last met with DOT officials earlier this year to discuss the nearly $15 million expansion. The meeting was not open to the public. "DOT has been making it bigger and bigger as they go along; it's over-sized for the area," said Scott Olson, who worked on the township's smart growth and master plans. "Two and three lanes can work just fine at 35 mph with timed lights to move a greater flow of traffic than a four-lane road." Byram received an $80,000 smart growth grant from the Office of State Planning to revitalize its downtown, which led to the adoption of land-use principles that focus development toward the stretch of roadway on Route 206. Olson said the expanded highway would preclude any hope of fostering a more pedestrian-friendly main street through the designated center of town. "We've redone our master plan to allow for much less zoning density in our outlying areas so there's really no need for additional capacity," he said. "The more traffic you move through and the faster you move it, the less opportunity there is for traffic to stop, the more difficult it is for someone to cross the street, and the more difficult it is to pull out onto." In public, DOT officials, including Dennis Keck, assistant commissioner for planning and development, have applauded Byram's approach to the road expansion, calling it an example of smart growth and something they would like to see across the Highlands preservation lands. Byram is among six towns in the entirely preserved Highlands region in the Northwest part of the state, where legislation severely restricts building on thousands of acres of land.