The Wawa site plan, with the store at top and gas pump island shown in yellow, calls for the creation of a new center lane on Newman Springs Road allowing motorists traveling in both directions to make left turns. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Like a motorist stuck in rush-hour traffic, a supersized Wawa convenience store and filling station proposed for a problematic Red Bank intersection inched forward Thursday night.
At issue as the zoning board weighs the plan: whether the project would make congestion worse or improve traffic flow near the intersection of Newman Springs Road and Broad Street.
Zoning board members Rich Angowski and Sharon Lee listening to testimony. Below, former mayor Ed McKenna, representing a nearby Exxon station, questions Wawa engineer Mark Whitaker. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
Frank Sala, who owns the Auto Exotica used luxury car dealership and the 1.7-acre property on which it sits, proposes to lease the site to the Wawa chain and move his business to a new facility he’s building in Atlantic Highlands, he told redbankgreen.
Wawa’s proposal calls for demolishing the existing showroom to replace it with a 5,600-square-foot convenience store and a canopied filling station, with 12 pumps dispensing gasoline and diesel fuel.
The plan needs several variances, including one for usage, as the combination is not allowed in the highway business zone. But the site’s frontage on a busy Monmouth County road, and proximity to an intersection that has a “level of service” rating of “F,” the lowest grade, by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, gave rise to extended and sometimes testy exchanges Thursday.
Most of the nearly three hours of testimony at the board’s second hearing on the proposal concerned traffic, with lawyers for an Exxon station, a strip mall and a billboard company grilling civil engineer Mark Whitaker and John Rea, Wawa’s traffic consultant.
Rea testified that he estimates peak activity during the morning rush of about 250 vehicles an hour entering the site, about 75 percent of it “pass-by” traffic, or vehicles that pull in without any break in the driver’s intended route. About 60 of those vehicles would represent destination shopping or stops by drivers going off their intended route, he said.
Former mayor Ed McKenna, the lawyer for nearby Exxon owner Gulshan Chaabra, sought to establish that the volume estimate was low.
He also sought to show that Rea hadn’t taken into account the impact the Wawa would have on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, as motorists leaving the site but barred from making left turns sought alternate routes to destinations to the north and east.
Wawa’s plan calls for access from a right-turn-in-only driveway at the site’s eastern end, about 200 feet west of Broad Street; and a “right-in/right-out/left-in” driveway another 200 feet west of the intersection. Left turns out of the Wawa would be prohibited.
In order to accommodate motorists leaving the site who wish to travel east, north or south, the company proposes to create a center turning lane on Newman Springs Road. The lane would extend from Broad Street west to Henry Street, allowing for turns north, and for turns south onto Laurel Avenue in Shrewsbury.
Rea said that directing motorists to the west, even when their destinations are to the east, is a “reasonable” solution. And because most of the Wawa’s traffic will be pass-by, he expects the adverse impacts on Henry Street and Laurel Avenue to be “insignificant,” he said.
“There has to be a reasonable alternative for people to get back to where they want to go,” he said.
The new center lane, marked with bi-directional turning arrows, appeared to raise concerns among board members, particularly when Rea testified that motorists intending to turn north onto Broad Street from eastbound Newman Springs Road could use the lane as a “stacking queue” at times of heavy volume.
Board members questioned whether such use was legal. Rea said he’s seen it done elsewhere.
Michael Convery, a lawyer representing Metrovation principal Chris Cole, owner of a nearby strip mall, pressed Rea on how the lane might be regarded as a safety improvement.
“I don’t think you want to admit that the queuing that’s now 600 feet is going to turn to 900 feet,” Convery said.
“I have a problem using that lane to stack,” said board member Sean Murphy.
Rea testified that the lane was his idea, not that of Monmouth County, though he said county officials had embraced it.
The next hearing on the application was scheduled for April 5.