By JOHN T. WARD
Still, Mayor Pasquale Menna is hoping the DOT will reconsider its oft-stated position if and when there’s a new owner of the former VNA Health Group headquarters building, located on a problematic corner, he told redbankgreen Monday.
Last month, at Menna’s urging, the borough council passed a resolution calling for the installation of a traffic light on Riverside Avenue/Route 35 at Bodman Place, a curved stretch of roadway between the Molly Pitcher Inn and Cooper’s Bridge.
It’s needed, he said, because heavy traffic makes it difficult for motorists to make left turns coming out Bodman Place, a dead-end that serves the Oyster Point Hotel, multi-family housing complexes and several office buildings. Menna maintains his law practice in one.
The resolution says the town would be willing to pick up 25 percent of the cost of a traffic signal. Menna estimates the project price tag would come in at between $250,000 and $300,000.
In response to inquiries by redbankgreen, DOT spokesman Stephen Shapiro sent this response:
NJDOT has investigated this request numerous times over several decades and has communicated to elected officials on multiple occasions that adding a traffic signal at the intersection of Bodman Place and Route 35/Riverside Avenue is not feasible. The most recent investigation was conducted in late 2016 and a meeting with town officials took place earlier this year to once again explain that adding a signal is not feasible. A signal at Bodman place would be too close to the signal at the intersection of Riverside Avenue/Rector Place/Bridge Avenue. The spacing would increase the potential for same direction crashes and create coordination issues negatively affecting traffic on Route 35.
When redbankgreen asked why a signal at that location would be any different from the one about 1,000 feet away, at Riverside Avenue and Allen Place, Shapiro responded, “you sort of answered it yourself – Allen Place is approximately 1,000 feet from the intersection of Route 35/Bridge Avenue, while Bodman Place is approximately 300 feet away.”
Menna has previously said the matter has added urgency now that the town has adopted a new Area in Need of Rehabilitation overlay zone in the area. The designation encourages property owners to redevelop housing that’s more than 50 years old in the zone, which abuts Riverside Avenue.
On Monday, Menna said the DOT has not considered “an actual application” by any entity, which he hoped would change minds in Trenton.
Menna said negotiations are underway for the sale of the former VNA building, a 20,000-square-foot office structure at the northwest corner of Riverside and Bodman, which the healthcare agency vacated earlier this year in favor of a new home in Holmdel.
Menna said he knows the identity of the prospective buyer, whom he declined to name, but said that “anybody interested in the VNA building may consider [an application to the DOT] a possibility.”
The prospective buyer might be willing to pay some of the cost in the form of off-site improvements, he said.
“I think there will be subsequent discussions with the DOT,” he said. “They say it’s not feasible. And yet, they’re the same people who say it is feasible to do a quick left turn signal after the light” from Route 35 northbound into the site of an approved Hampton Inn, on the highway’s southbound side, just south of Cooper’s Bridge.
During 2016 planning board hearings on the proposed hotel, a traffic planner for site developer Rbank Capital testified that the DOT had indicated it would allow northbound traffic to queue up in the center of five lanes to make a left turn into the hotel, just yards north of the traffic light at the junction of Route 35, Bridge Avenue and Rector Place. But after a planning board member repeatedly said that “somebody is going to die” if such turns are allowed, Rbank owner Larry Cohen offered a stipulation that he would not seek DOT approval of the turns, and the board approved the hotel plan last February.
Something has to be done at Riverside and Bodman, Menna said.
“For people who don’t either work there or live there, it’s difficult to understand,” he said. “But the people who are affected know that there are certain times of day that you don’t leave Bodman” because of the difficulty in making left turns onto the southbound highway.
Those who opt to make a right turn instead must travel about a half-mile north over the bridge and around a jughandle before beginning in the southbound direction.
Moreover, even if the status quo remains, the existing road markings on Riverside Avenue are insufficient, he said. Signs tell northbound motorists on Riverside not to block the intersection, but with no indication of where the intersection is, the advisory is not observed, he said.
“Nobody follows it,” he said. Motorists “don’t know where the intersection starts and ends.”
“I’m not a traffic engineer,” he added. “I can only tell you it’s a difficult situation for residents and visitors.”