Another giant project draws fire in Plainsboro

University seeks to build 800,000-square-foot office project on Forrestal campus.

By: David M. Campbell
   PLAINSBORO — About 60 neighbors turned out at the Township Planning Board meeting Monday night to oppose a large office complex proposed for Forrestal Campus North, claiming it will bring more traffic to an already glutted area.
   The residents — as well as Planning Board members — expressed concern over the concept plan for a five-building office complex totaling about 800,000 square feet to be accessed from the recently constructed Campus Road and Stellerator Road, saying the Sayre Drive underpass is inadequate to handle the traffic volumes the new complex would attract.
   The project, on the east side of Route 1, is being proposed by Forrestal-PGI, in conjunction with Princeton University.
   "We understand and recognize there is a concern about circulation through that interchange," said Carl Penki, the developer’s traffic consultant.
   He said the underpass can handle the traffic but acknowledged it would cause serious backups on southbound Route 1.
   "I cannot present solutions to that situation tonight," he said.
   Chris Baker, an attorney for Princeton University, said the university is "aware of the very serious concern, we acknowledge the seriousness of that concern," but said he could not cite solutions.
   Mayor Peter Cantu, a member of the Planning Board, called the traffic situation "unacceptable." Board member and Township Committeeman Ed Yates said, "I would like to reiterate my disappointment that it wasn’t addressed by this time."
   Michael Wilburn of the Board of Directors of the Princeton Landing development said the proposal "drags Route 1’s problems right to our front doors."
   "Aside from the inconvenience issues," Mr. Wilburn said, "there’s just an enormous safety issue as well." He added that he was encouraged by the comments made by Planning Board members.
   Susan J. Smiley, co-chairperson of Friends of Sayre Drive, a group made up of Princeton Landing residents, said, "The concept plan would clearly make the Sayre Drive underpass unsafe at morning and evening rush hours and, we suspect, at other times during business hours. The Sayre Drive intersection with Route 1 is the only entrance and exit for Princeton Landing."
   Prior to Monday night’s meeting, Township Engineer Michael McCleland highlighted some issues he said need to be addressed in planning and design. The plan should minimize direct access from the site to Stellarator Road along Route 1, except as required for emergency-services vehicles, to minimize traffic impacts on the Sayre Drive intersection, he said in an interoffice memorandum.
   The Friends group marshaled statistics from a 1998 traffic study conducted by Princeton University to support its claim.
   By 2008, according to the study, morning rush hours will see about 549 vehicles using the intersection to access southbound Route 1.
   "This translates into one car turning left across oncoming traffic every 6.5 seconds in order for traffic to keep moving," Ms. Smiley said. "I can assure you that the Sayre Drive underpass is not designed to handle traffic even remotely approaching this level."
   In the evening at rush hour, roughly half the number of morning rush-hour vehicles are projected to use the intersection, but the poor design of the underpass, Ms. Smiley continued, makes even moderate increases in traffic hazardous.
   According to the study, more than 7,000 cars will be entering the Plainsboro portion of Route 1 at peak hours.
   "The vast majority of these cars are going to the existing and proposed office buildings in Princeton Forrestal Center," she said.
   Ms. Smiley said the only way to protect her community is to "completely isolate the Sayre Drive exit from the Forrestal campus."
   The Friends of Sayre Drive previously opposed a 220-unit apartment complex on 56 acres of former Princeton Nurseries lands, off Mapleton and Seminary roads. The Planning Board approved the project on Dec. 18.
   The organization, along with a number of other neighborhood and area associations, also plans to oppose a 2-million-square-foot office and retail complex also planned for that land when a concept plan is introduced for review.
   "Princeton Landing is the only community from which people can easily walk or bicycle to work at the Forrestal Campus," Ms. Smiley said. "Since the underpass is narrow and there are no sidewalks, pedestrian lanes or bicycle paths, this is only possible with the current, moderate amount of traffic."
   She added, "Such commuting, which is encouraged by the township for good municipal planning, will be made impossible by the traffic coming from the Forrestal campus development."