DOT moving ahead with Route 206 expansion

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:48

    BYRAM-State transportation officials say the planned expansion of Route 206 will ease traffic congestion through the center of Byram. But not everyone is convinced. About 150 people attended a public meeting in Byram this week to listen to state representatives explain the much-debated plan to widen the highway from two to four lanes for 1.2 miles, from Acorn Street to the Byram Plaza off Lackawanna Road. Some Byram officials doubt the $26.5 million expansion will reduce congestion. The township council had asked the department of transportation to "re-examine the goals and outcomes" of the plan. "A lot of the people are for it and a lot of the people are against it, but there's a lot of compromise in this plan," said Denice daCunha, a state consulting engineer. For example, she said, the state added center turn lanes and 35-mph speed zones to accommodate the public. "This plan was preserved with some slight changes to some basic shapes, but it's the same footprints," she said. "It's solving a lot of existing sub-standard features." But according to a 2004 transportation study in the township's recently completed master plan, adding more traffic lanes is at best a temporary solution to the increased traffic flow of this 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." "DOT is building a mass-transit design for a small-scale community," said Scott Olson, co-founder of North Byram Concerned Citizens, a community group that opposes the planned widening. "They are trying to make Byram a drive-through town and we want to make it a place where people want to stop and visit n a place to come to, not go through." The township wanted to explore a scaled-down version of the project that would realign the intersection of Waterloo and Brookwood roads, where traffic usually backs up. Both roads are scheduled to be widened, and will include a right-turn lane and shared left-turn and through lanes. Karen Minch, a state project manager, said the transportation department has yet to give a final approval to the plan and will meet with Byram officials again to iron out minor details. Work is scheduled to begin next year, pending final approval. Byram Mayor Eskil "Skip" Danielson supports the expansion. He said the hearing was a chance for the public to ask questions and give suggestions. Sussex County Freeholder Susan Zellman, a resident of nearby Stanhope, said improvements to the current roadway are much needed and long awaited by local commuters, who are often forced to sit in traffic. "I'm happy that we have a plan that is safe and will move people," she said. Byram received an $80,000 smart growth grant from the Office of State Planning to revitalize its downtown. This led to the adoption of land-use principles that focus development toward the stretch of roadway on Route 206. Tammie Horsfield, president of the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce, said the Route 206 expansion is good for area businesses. "Byram is the gateway to our county," she said. "Route 206 just doesn't work the way it is. This plan is not just good for business, but it's also good for the quality of life of our residents."