By JOHN T. WARD
Like many motorists, a traffic engineer for one of the largest development plans in Red Bank history found himself confronting an intersection likened to “Russian roulette” Monday night.The VNA building, with Riverside Avenue in foreground and Bodman Place at right, in 2018. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
In testimony before the borough planning board, John McCormack, the traffic consultant for a 210-unit apartment complex proposed by a unit of Saxum Real Estate at 176 Riverside Avenue, said the project would create less peak evening traffic than when the VNA used the site as its headquarters.
Chad Warnken, Saxum’s attorney, told the board that it doesn’t have authority to deny the application based on offsite traffic conditions, under a seminal New Jersey land-use court ruling. Still, McCormack, of Dynamic Traffic in Lake Como, acknowledged the difficulty drivers face exiting Bodman Place onto Riverside Avenue, particularly when making left turns, and offered four suggestions for improving matters.
Among them was one that’s been flatly rejected in the past by the New Jersey Department of Transportation: a traffic light.
In 2017, in response to a resolution from the borough council calling for the installation of a traffic light, a DOT spokesman said the agency had “investigated this request numerous times over several decades” and determined that a signal at the intersection was “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 agency said in a statement to redbankgreen at the time. “The spacing would increase the potential for same direction crashes and create coordination issues negatively affecting traffic on Route 35.”
If approved, the light would cost about $300,000, McCormack estimated. Warnken said the company would pick up no less than 50 percent of the cost.
Another suggestion McCormack made: installing signage and road markings telling drivers on northbound Riverside Avenue not to “block the box” when stopped at the traffic light at Bridge Avenue. That “would make a tremendous difference” in allowing left turns from Bodman, he said.
But both Councilman Michael Ballard and Mayor Pasquale Menna, in their capacities as board members, were dubious.
“I’m not as confident as you are about ‘don’t block the box,'” said Menna, a lawyer whose office is on Bodman Place. In places where it’s been tried before, he said, “nobody observes it.”
Still, he said the DOT’s objections “are not insurmountable,” and that the agency might take a fresh look at the traffic light request based on the borough having a “partner” in Saxum.
In response to a question from board member David Cassidy, McCormack said that even if the DOT rejects the installation of a light, the Saxum project was sustainable.
“Absolutely, especially if we can implement the ‘do not block the box’ and other improvements that are low-hanging fruit,” he said.
Residents of Bodman Place used their opportunity to question McCormack to press their case that the project should not be approved without fixing the intersection.
“Living there I can tell you it’s like Russian roulette,” said Peggy Marchese, a resident of the Colony House apartment building directly across Bodman Place from the VNA site.
As to the “courtesy gap” in traffic that drivers frequently have to hope for in order to turn left, “I have actually gotten stuck in the middle on more than one occasion,” Marchese said.
Beth Lucas, of 138 Bodman, brought up the 2017 accident in which a vehicle driven by former New York Mets infielder John Valentin plowed into the VNA building, and said having first-floor living units with entryways on Riverside Avenue, as proposed, could be dangerous to the occupants.
Menna said the board shared that concern.
On another issue, the ability of Bodman Place to accommodate firetrucks, McCormack testified that the volunteer fire department had determined that two driveway drop-off areas were large enough for the town’s 45-foot-long ladder truck to maneuver, even with cars parked on the east side of Bodman.
Cassidy, a volunteer fireman with the Navesink Hook & Ladder company, told the audience that, at present, “we can’t turn around on Bodman Place,” and have to back the ladder out onto Riverside Avenue.
“It’s complicated, it’s dangerous for the residents and the firefighters,” he said. The change proposed by Saxum is “an improvement,” one that “is welcomed” by firefighters, he said.
The session ended after three hours and was scheduled to resume Wednesday, September 4, at 7 p.m., with further questioning of McCormack expected.
In addition to the 210 rental units in two five-story buildings, Saxum’s plan calls for a 323-vehicle parking garage, 9,000 square feet of coworking space and a 2,350-square foot retail food space for a yet-to-be-signed tenant. The project does not need any variances, as the proposal complies with a redevelopment plan approved by the borough council last year, according to Warnken.
As part of an agreement with the council, the project would supply 32 units of affordable housing under the redevelopment pact.
Here’s the complete site plan: 176 Riverside Site Plan
And here are the architectural drawings: 176 Riverside Ave Architecturals
Here’s McCormack’s traffic report: 176 Riverside Traffic Study 041919
Here’s the review by the board’s planning consultant, Ed Herman: T&M Saxum report 070519