It’s not like we spend our days looking for cars driving into oncoming traffic. It just keeps happening in front of us.
Six weeks ago, we caught a car going the wrong way in the new traffic ’roundabout’ in Lincroft, just minutes after a press conference at which officials talked up how safe it was. (We’ve got an update of that story today, if you missed it.)
Today, a redbankgreen reader urged us to stand at the newly re-engineered intersection of Maple Avenue (Route 35) and Broad Street, just north of the New Jersey Transit tracks, and see what happens.
OK, so we sort of went looking for it this time. But frankly, we were shocked at how easy it was to find.
We weren’t out there five minutes before we saw a car zoom the wrong way into the lanes for oncoming southbound traffic. And over the the next 20 minutes or so, we saw it happen at least six more times.
The errant drivers were all headed north, and no doubt doing what they’d always done: making a sweeping left as the highway (Route 35/Broad Street) becomes Maple Avenue. Except that now, they’re supposed to continue straight on Broad another 75 feet or so and then make a hard left just past a new concrete traffic island opposite Rassas Pontiac.
In that same 20 minutes, was saw another half-dozen motorists start to make the mistake but realize that something was different after they crossed over the center yellow lines. Most of them awkwardly veered back where they belonged, or simply made the left from the southbound lanes of Broad Street.
One confused motorist, though, didn’t get back, and because of a light change, found himself stranded on Broad in one of the two lanes of oncoming traffic, with angry motorists blowing their horn at him.
There wasn’t cop or flagman in sight.
This a dangerous situation, folks.
Charlie Beyers, the state Department of Transportation’s resident engineer on the job, tells redbankgreen that some new “Do Not Enter” and “Keep Right” signs which weren’t originally in the plans but were OK’d by Trenton this week ought to go a long way toward fixing things, but don’t expect to see them before next week.
The agency is also considering altering the newly painted road markings, we hear.
But in the interim, Red Bank police say there’s little they can do.
Lt. Darren McConnell of the traffic safety bureau tells us that the department can only sometimes post a patrol car at the intersection to get motorists to slow down and take notice of the change. But because Route 35 is a state highway, the borough is prohibited from posting signs.
“We put a guy out there occasionally, but it’s not an enforcement problem,” McConnell says. “We’re aware of the problem, and we’ve been in constant contact with the DOT. But that’s about all we can do.”
The new alignment has been in effect for about a week, and so far there haven’t been any reported accidents, McConnell says, which he acknowledges is “a little surprising.” He says the problem appears to be worst when southbound traffic is light: a heavy volume of cars moving in that direction appears to be the best deterrent to motorists who might otherwise blithely head into the oncoming lane, he says.
We have to wonder if the DOT has done an effective job of alerting motorists to the change. An electronic billboard carrying a notice of the new pattern sits on the northbound side of Broad Street in Shrewsbury, out in front of Lena’s Bagels. But the sign is partly obscured by a utility pole and several commercial signs.
“That one is bad,” store owner Lena Caruso says of the new alignment. Customers, she says, are coming in complaining about the danger. “I tell you now, there’s going to be a lot of accidents there.”
The project, budgeted at $700,000, involved the installation of a concrete island to provide a safe waiting area for pedestrians who might not cross the mouth of Maple on one green light; it’s also meant to channel northbound traffic and to halt left turns from Maple onto Broad.
The project also called for the installation of cameras and other electronics to improve traffic-signal timing and reduce idling by cars caused by North Jersey Coast Line trains passing through the intersection.
A call to a DOT spokeswoman was not returned this afternoon.