New Jersey’s top transportation official brought her team, and a pledge, to Morristown on Friday.
“Today, the commitment that I make to the mayor, and the mayor makes back to us, is that we’re going to work hand in hand to do the best we can to keep Morristown economically viable through a good flowing transportation system,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said during a 90-minute meeting with Mayor Tim Dougherty and his administration at town hall.
Their joint goal, Gutierrez-Scaccetti said, is “to create a place where people live, work and play comfortably. Do we get that done in a year? No. Do we start it and get improvements in a year? Yes.”
Motorists might be forgiven if they greet such statements with impatience. Officials have talked for years about taming traffic…as it keeps getting worse.
But Gutierrez-Scaccetti cited a plan to marginally improve traffic signalization by November. Beyond that, she aims to pursue more advanced technology to enable DOT officials in Trenton to adapt signal timing to traffic conditions on the fly.
Town Planner Phil Abramson said DOT officials also indicated they are close to approving a realignment of the Spring Street/ Speedwell Avenue intersection, arguably the worst bottleneck in town.
“We’re continually moving the needle forward,” said Dougherty, noting he was “super impressed” that the DOT commissioner came to Morristown.
In the wake of a $400,000 study from 2016 that reported a big chunk of Morristown’s traffic is passing through from other places, and with neighboring towns developing rapidly, the mayor has been pressing for regional solutions to congestion.
Compounding Morristown’s woes is an antiquated system of approximately 30 traffic signals, of which about 25 are the state’s responsibility. Fiber optic lines designed to connect signals have been severed over the years–by developers, if you believe the DOT, or by utility- and road crews, if you listen to town officials.
The result is lights that follow no logical pattern of greens and reds, causing vehicles to crawl across town in fits and starts.
Over the last year or so, the DOT and municipality together have upgraded the signals to enable each one to synchronize its timing with a satellite. The next step, which Gutierrez-Scaccetti hopes the DOT will complete in 10 months, is to program each signal to change at intervals that keep traffic moving.
That will require acquiring and crunching more traffic data, according to the commissioner.
“Unfortunately, in the transportation space, 10 months is not a long time,” conceded Gutierrez-Scaccetti, a former CEO of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise and past executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. She was confirmed as DOT commissioner last summer.
The state’s next challenge is finding money to repair Morristown’s fiber lines, and link them to a control center where signal sequencing can be changed remotely in response to traffic accidents, heavy rush hours, and so forth.
If that project lands federal dollars, Morristown must ensure that pedestrian ramps comply with guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Wasif Mirza, director of mobility and engineering for the DOT. Town Administrator Jillian Barrick sees the fiber project as a chance for Morristown to become a trailblazer.”We’re hoping we can lead the way with new technologies. I’m big about controlling our destiny,” Barrick said. State officials could not immediately provide examples of such a system anywhere in New Jersey, nor could they predict the price tag for Morristown.
Realigning the Spring / Speedwell intersection, meanwhile, will cost more than $1 million, by Barrick’s estimate. Who will foot that bill also is undetermined.
The DOT approved a similar realignment proposal years ago, but a prior town administration held out for a more drastic design, Abramson said. The pending realignment would favor vehicles traveling from Spring Street onto Speedwell, over traffic coming down Speedwell from the Morristown Green, the planner said.
When combined with properly sequenced signals, the realignment should speed the flow of commuters from Route 287 to points west of Morristown, Abramson explained.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti and Mirza were accompanied Friday by DOT Deputy Commissioner Joseph Bertoni, Chief of Staff Jay Jimenez, and Regional Manager Anthony Sytko, among other DOT officials.
Morristown’s contingent included town Engineer Anthony Devisio, Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr., Acting Police Chief Darnell Richardson and town Attorney Vij Pawar.