Mayors have wish lists for use of bridge cash

The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission has earmarked $40 million for towns impacted by traffic from its bridges.

By: Linda Seida
   Local mayors had no trouble coming up with their wish lists after the Delaware River Toll Bridge Commission last week announced the availability of $40 million to fund remedies for traffic woes linked to the commission’s bridges.
   Lambertville Mayor David Del Vecchio said the city already has submitted a proposal requesting $1 million from the commission. The money would be used to pay for traffic-calming improvements approved by the City Council a year ago.
   Although no one knows yet when or how the money will be distributed, Mayor Del Vecchio said he thinks the city’s proposal has a "very good chance" of being approved, at least in part, and he hopes the commission will make a decision within the next few months.
   Although the mayor did not have statistics, he said traffic in the city increased dramatically when the commission raised the rates on its seven toll bridges in 2002, causing drivers to seek alternate routes. Motorists used the free bridge more often as opposed to the toll bridge, which crosses the river north of the city.
   When the commission reduced tolls in 2003, the reduction failed to remedy the traffic congestion, Mayor Del Vecchio said. Also, he added, a traffic count for 2003 will not be an accurate gauge because the New Hope-Lambertville bridge was closed weekdays for repairs for six months.
   The city’s plan to control and calm traffic includes the addition of speed humps, raised pedestrian crossings, mini traffic circles, landscaped medians and the narrowing of some roads.
   "If we do get this," Mayor Del Vecchio said of the commission funding, "we’ll have to prioritize the streets we do first."
   Before any traffic-calming measures are implemented, residents will be invited to a series of public meetings to offer input, Mayor Del Vecchio said.
   Like Lambertville, Stockton suffered an increase in vehicular traffic.
   "Between the Lambertville bridge closing and the toll increases, we got hit hard," Stockton Mayor Gregg Rackin said.
   He described the town’s experience as "permanently increased truck traffic."
   The influx of heavy trucks on the historic town’s roads has caused infrastructure problems, including a crack in a water main on Bridge Street, Mayor Rackin said. The toll reduction in 2003 did not do much to reverse the numbers.
   If there was any reduction of traffic, it was "very minor," Mayor Rackin said.
   He has a wish list for the town, but he said, "I would hesitate to put a dollar figure on it until we do our homework."
   Mayor Rackin’s wish list includes a remedy for Mill Street, a road that suffers some of the worst flooding in the borough and where the Fire Department is located. The list also includes funding for traffic-calming measures as well as a town beautification program that could include streetlights and sidewalk repairs.
   In New Hope, Mayor Laurence Keller said he has "one wish, and it’s a big one."
   He’d like to add "walk" and "don’t walk" lights to the traffic light located at the intersection of Bridge and Main streets where the New Hope-Lambertville bridge disgorges vehicular traffic into the borough.
   Although there have been no major injuries the past year at the intersection, there have been several in the past, according to Mayor Keller. The pedestrian prompts would make the intersection "more user-friendly," Mayor Keller said.
   Local officials have discussed adding the walk prompts but have found the electronics to be too expensive. Mayor Keller said estimates place the cost at about $150,000.
   "We just can’t afford that as a municipality," he said.
   Also on New Hope’s wish list is funding to coordinate the traffic light at Bridge and Main streets with the light at Route 179 and Sugan Road and with the lights in Lambertville at Bridge and Main streets and Bridge and Union streets. Mayor Keller had no estimate of the cost.