BLACK BOX DEBATE: ARE THEY DANGERS?

black-boxLarge black power boxes for traffic lights, like this one at Prospect Avenue and Harding Road at the Little Silver/Red Bank border, have some Fair Haven residents concerned about visibility. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A push to upgrade traffic lights in Monmouth County has some Fair Haven residents switched on against the hulking black boxes being installed at the corner of River Road and Hance Road.

The boxes, which already have been installed at two other locations in Little Silver and Red Bank, might be fit for somewhere on the Turnpike, but not in a residential neighborhood where school children walk and ride bikes, they say.

In Fair Haven, though, a satisfying solution doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

Leading the complaints is Julie Tapke, who lives at the corner of River and Hance, where a new light has been installed and two black boxes are set to be planted in the ground. The boxes, one of which stands at about six feet high, supply battery power and electronic sensors to the lights.

But they pose a safety hazard to drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists, Tapke said.

“The size of the box is enormous,” said Tapke, who has children who regularly ride their bikes in that area. “I think the county made a mistake from the very start.”

County Engineer Joe Ettore says otherwise. He says said his office followed state and federal Department of Transportation standards for the placement of the equipment, and that no study has shown that the boxes will cut the vision of motorists.

“This is a standard installation that’s been throughout the state, throughout the country,” he said. “There’s no professional opinion of any kind that indicates that this is a sight distance issue. We’re following something that’s a well-established industry standard.”

Ettore, along with Mayor Mike Halfacre, has talked with Tapke and her neighbors to find a location for the boxes that would satisfy all concerns. But that’s nearly impossible, given county access to land and the differing opinions of neighbors on where to put the boxes, Halfacre said. There were alternate locations, including Tapke’s property, that would require an easement, but they weren’t agreed upon, he said.

“The county has been very cooperative trying to address everybody’s concerns. The problem is not everybody’s concerns are in the same place,” Halfacre said. “They can’t possibly make everybody happy.”

Andrew Stypa, who also has children who ride and walk in the area, said he’s worried that the boxes will block the vision of motorists, who if they aren’t paying attention could hit somebody.

River Road, he said, “is one of the main arteries going through town. It could be an obstacle. It could be scary.”

Ettore said the county, which is in the process of replacing 40 traffic lights in total, will move ahead with its plan in Fair Haven to install the black boxes.

“We have tried to do everything we cold to come up with other locations,” he said. “Those locations were not acceptable to her.”

And perhaps no location will.

“I don’t think there’s ever a good location for anything like that,” Stypa said.