Route 206 - Detailed History

MAYOR SKIP DANIELSON & COUNCIL CANDIDATE JACK GALLAGHER
SUPPORT THE NJDOT PLANNED SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS TO ROUTE #206 FROM ACORN STREET TO CATSWAMP HILL.
WHY? HERE IS THE REALITY OF THE PROJECT

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has thoroughly studied the need for improvements to State Highway Route #206 (designed and built as Route #31 in the 1920’s) between Acorn Street and Catswamp Hill north of Lackawanna Drive in Byram Township, Sussex County, for reasons of increased traffic safety and decreased traffic congestion.

The Byram Township Council has always acknowledged the need for improvements to Route #206 from Acorn Street to Catswamp Hill for reasons of maximizing traffic safety and minimizing traffic congestion.

The Byram Township Council adopted Resolution 119-2003 in October 2003 providing for conditional support of said improvements, Resolution 152-2005 in September 2005 rescinding the conditional support of said improvements and Resolution 168-2007 in October 2007 clearly stating support for such improvements.

The Township of Byram has thoroughly researched alternatives to the widening of Route #206 including contracting with renowned ‘New Urbanist Movement’ Architect Robert Orr to conduct a charette that yielded a 132 feet wide ‘futuristic image’ of Route #206, which was praised by local, anti-widening activists despite being twice the width and meteorically higher in cost than the plan proposed by the NJDOT.

In a January 2005 study called “The Trucks Are Coming!” released by Damien Newton of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, it was documented that truck traffic on Route #206 in Sussex County will increase by 107% by 2020, the highest rate of increase in the state, causing traffic delays to grow by 755% and yielding health-risk levels of air pollution, toxins and carcinogens.

That increase in air pollution will also have a detrimental affect on the very flora and trees necessary for the success of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

The presence of Lubber’s Run, a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection designated C-1 stream, transects Byram Township leaving the township with no in-town alternate route for any traffic, including for emergency vehicles, other than Route #206 to travel from the most densely populated area of the township to the business, government and educational centers of the township.

Byram Township volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel have to risk their lives very frequently contending with heavy traffic conditions on Route #206 when enroute to their apparatus in personal vehicles and then  being delayed while responding in emergency vehicles to scenes sometimes involving life and death situations.

Officers of the Byram Township Police Department frequently have to risk their lives to respond to emergencies through heavy traffic conditions on Route #206, have to investigate all too numerous accidents placing themselves at risk in the narrow roadway and have to close Route #206 requiring no less than a ten mile traffic diversion, all in the area of the proposed improvement project.

An example was on February 1, 2008 when traffic had to be been diverted off of Interstate Route #80 due to an accident in Mt. Olive Township, that emergency diversion emptying a high volume of traffic onto Route #206 Byram Township causing increased driving hazards over and above those conditions already in place due to weather conditions and usual traffic volumes.

Route #206 through Byram Township is one of only four state highways into Sussex County that will have to have the capacity to handle evacuation traffic to shelters in central Sussex County in times of disasters and emergencies in urban areas to the east.

The Byram Township Council and the developer of the then- proposed Shop Rite Plaza began efforts to widen Route #206 as proposed as early as the 1980’s when the shopping center was in the conceptual/design stage.

The current shopping plaza was built in the 1990’s with  confidence in the NJDOT that Route #206 would be widened from the four-lanes at the Route #80 off-ramp near Acorn Street to the current three plus lane configuration in front of and beyond the plaza.

The traffic congestion on Route #206 in the proposed project area has increased to levels felt by many potential shoppers to be too difficult to traverse.

Local business-economic conditions have been adversely affected by Route #206 traffic congestion resulting in the closing of several businesses and an increased vacancy rate in the Shop Rite Plaza.

Executive Director Tammie Horsfield of the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce has advised that her organization is very concerned about the negative impact Route #206 traffic congestion is having on the business community and has communicated her concerns to appropriate state officials.

Byram Township is 98% by area in the Highlands Act Preservation Area thereby increasing the value of the Shop Rite Plaza to the local economy and tax base while concurrently increasing the negative impact of Route #206 traffic congestion on the local economy.

Byram Township was ahead of the State of New Jersey in preserving steep slopes, rock outcroppings and wetlands by local zoning ordinances and environmentally sensitive master plans.

Byram Township has also modified its zoning ordinances, reserved necessary sewer gallonage, received state-approved Village Center designation and tied its’ mandated, affordable housing (COAH) obligation to the development of its Village Center, a center which will be adversely impacted unless the highway improvements as proposed in the current plan are implemented.

The Township of Byram cannot in good conscience go forward with the Village Center due to the inevitable exacerbation of traffic safety risks, traffic congestion with concomitant pollution and negative economic impact without a commitment by the NJDOT to complete the proposed project in a timely manner.

The ‘perfect storm’ of state mandates and NJDOT inaction on the necessary, life-safety, air quality and traffic decongestion improvements of Route #206 will make it impossible for the  Township of Byram to meet not only Council On Affordable Housing mandates but also certain basic needs of the Byram Township residents and taxpayers.

On May 12, 2005, the New Jersey Herald published their editorial fully supporting the widening of Route #206 through Byram Township citing the fact that “Tuesday’s Byram mayoral election results may actually be an indication of public support, since (Mayor) Eskil “Skip” Danielson, who is for the project, defeated . . . (candidate’s name withheld), who is adamantly against the project, by a more than 3-to-1 margin” also pointing out that “the highway serves all county residents, not just the people of Byram.”

In support of the New Jersey Herald observation, the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, including now State Senator Steven V. Oroho and now State Assemblyman Gary R. Chiusano, has passed unanimous resolutions in support of the NJDOT widening plan.

In the last Byram Township Council election on May 8, 2007, all three now-former Council members who were for improvements, including the aforementioned “New Urbanist” 132 feet design, but not including widening to 62 feet, were defeated (the highest garnering 35% of the votes) by three newcomers, with 70% of the voters endorsing the candidate who aggressively and openly campaigned in favor of the NJDOT plan to widen the highway.

The former Township Council’s early support was conditioned upon an on-going Context Sensitive Design process, that process now moving forward in a satisfactory manner, to address detailed design elements based on Smart Growth principles.

Byram Township has been asked by the NJDOT for specific context design elements and the township has supplied same.

During the planning and preliminary design of the project, several factors had changed including the type of planning methodologies utilized by the Department of Transportation, Byram Township’s inclusion in the Highland’s preservation area, and the State’s emphasis on Smart Growth planning principles.

As a result of additional collaborative planning involving both the NJDOT and the Township of Byram and in light of the above-referenced changes, the parties have agreed that the project limits will include the Acorn Street intersection; the project will initially include one lane in each direction with peak period travel on northbound and southbound shoulders the full length of the project; the project will have fully travelable shoulders and the project expansion to the use of the shoulders to full-time travel lanes will be based on factual data in order for the project to be successful.

The NJDOT has designed the Lubber’s Run Bridge, certain gateway treatments, tree planting and other amenities not otherwise cost prohibitive pursuant to Byram Township Context Sensitive Design requests.

The NJDOT has already expended precious taxpayer dollars to move the project through final design, NJDEP and Highlands approvals and right-of-way acquisitions.

The Byram Township Mayor and Council know that completion of this project is vital to the safety of our firefighters, EMTs, police officers and the traveling public; will reduce traffic congestion thereby increasing viability of the business/economic climate while reducing the ever-increasing harm to the environment and will permit the township to go forward with the designated Village Center thereby making it more likely that COAH obligations will be met.