A site plan for the proposed project shows the store at center, the fueling area as the yellow rectangle, and center lane left-turn markings on Newman Springs Road, at bottom. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


Rather than worsening conditions for motorists, a proposed Wawa convenience store and filling station in Red Bank would come with roadway upgrades to improve traffic flow and safety near a busy intersection, witnesses told the borough zoning board Thursday night.

The Wawa would be built on the current site of Auto Exotica, above. Wawa proposes the creation of a new center lane allowing motorists traveling in both directions on Newman Springs Road to make left turns. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

At the first of what’s expected to be at least two nights of testimony, a civil engineer and a traffic expert testified about plans for a “superconvenience” store of almost 5,600 square feet and a six-pump gasoline island on the current site of the Auto Exotica used luxury car showroom on Newman Springs Road, just west of Broad Street.

Frank Sala, who owns the 1.7-acre property and the car dealership, proposes to lease the site to the Wawa chain.

While board members expressed concerns about deliveries and signage, most of the hearing was focussed on the traffic impacts of a busy new retail operation just feet from a five-legged intersection and railroad crossing that the New Jersey Department of Transportation gives its lowest grade of ‘F.’ That’s largely because motorists often sit waiting for a green light for three minutes or more, said Wawa traffic engineer John Rea.

Under the Wawa plan, westbound vehicles would be able to enter the site via two driveways located 200 feet apart on Newman Springs Road; eastbound drivers would enter through one near the property’s western edge. To prevent vehicles exiting the site and crossing the busy westbound lane into eastbound traffic, Wawa plans to prohibit left-turn exits, and to enforce the rule with a porkchop-shaped “channelizing” traffic island, said civil engineer Mark Whitaker.

When acting board chairman Ray Mass asked whether motorists would ignore the ban and try to turn left from the site, Whitaker replied, “that’s why we’re doing the hard island.”

In addition, the company proposes to create a center turning lane on Newman Springs Road, an idea Rea said was encouraged by Monmouth County, which owns the road. The lane would extend from Broad Street west to Henry Street and would create a “safety enhancement,” allowing drivers to turn into businesses on either side of the road, Rea said.

“We’re providing a safe refuge area for those left turns to be made,” Rea said. “The striping proposal we’ve put forth will make it safer, and I believe the county agrees with us.”

The lane would also function as a piece of what Rea called a “reasonable alternative” for Wawa customers leaving the site and hoping to head southbound on Broad Street/Route 35. After heading west a short distance, they would be able to make a left at Laurel Street in Shrewsbury and then head east on non-residential Haddon Avenue to the highway, he said.

Rea said Shrewsbury Mayor Donald Burden and two police officers from that town had attended a meeting in Freehold with the county engineering department and appeared satisfied with the plan, provided Wawa add signage to keep vehicles out of residential neighborhoods, Rea said.

Based on planning industry standards, Rea said he expected some 250 vehicles to enter and exit the Wawa property during the morning peak hour starting around 7 a.m., and a peak of about 190 vehicles per hour in the evening rush from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. More than two-thirds of the morning flow will be from existing traffic heading westbound and stopping for coffee and gas, he said.

During the public question period, Michael Hoffman, the attorney for SFC Enterprises, which owns the office building next door to the west of the site, said he often sees “rather aggressive” motorists going the wrong way into a one-way exit from the SFC building to get to as gym on the premises. He said the Wawa’s westerly driveway was too close to the SFC property line, and combined with similar driver behavior would result in accidents.

Whitaker acknowledged that the driveway placement “is not ideal,” but said it complies with both borough and county laws.

Whitaker testified that the borough requires 22 parking spaces for the plan, but Wawa would provide 54. He also said the company would reduce impervious surface at the site by 11,000 square feet.

Former Red Bank mayor Ed McKenna, representing Golshan Chhabra, owner of the Exxon at the intersection of Newman Springs Road and Shrewsbury Avenue, told the board he would have at least an hour of cross-examination of Rea at the board’s next meeting on the matter, scheduled for March 1.