The new Route 1?

A not-so-quiet effort is under way to bolster Route 130

By: Mike Mathis
   Some see Route 130 in Mercer County as nothing more than a highway motorists use to travel from place to place.
   Others see it as a pathway to future prosperity. The Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce, and other business and government organizations, are working to formulate a plan for growth along the Route 130 corridor in Hamilton, East Windsor and Washington townships that could result in the area becoming a center for biotech businesses.
   Among the issues being discussed are transportation, signage, beautification, congestion mitigation, safety and pedestrian mobility, and business attraction and retention. A summit to discuss the viability and marketability of the Route 130 corridor was held in October, and collaborative action plan is being developed to define the vision of the corridor.
   "The Route 130 corridor is the newer up-and-coming development in the area," said chamber President and CEO Michele N. Siekerka, who is spearheading the effort with local, county and state officials. "There is an opportunity for a lot of growth to take place rather than the growth taking place piecemeal.
   "We are excited about engaging the business community, along with our governmental partners, in a process that will help to define the Route 130 corridor," Ms. Siekerka said. "With the significant growth along the corridor, it is highly appropriate for all of the stakeholders to be involved in setting a collaborative vision."
   Mercer County is not the only area where the development of Route 130 is under study. Local and county officials, and business organizations in Burlington County have worked for several years to level abandoned shopping centers and old motels, and to attract new businesses and housing developments.
   While officials have not definitively determined exactly what Route 130 in Mercer County will look like, they know what they don’t want it to look like.
   "We don’t want to see another Route 1," Ms. Siekerka said. "We want (the Route 130 corridor) to be part of a vision from its formation, not after the fact."
   Eli Mordechai, CEO of Medical Diagnostic Laboratories in Hamilton, envisions the Route 130 corridor becoming an extension of ‘Einstein’s Alley," a movement to turn the Route 1 corridor into a well-known high-tech center; the Silicon Valley of the East Coast.
   Dr. Mordechai cited the more than 2.5 million square feet in laboratory space located near Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike as something that could be duplicated along the Route 130 corridor.
   "They’re looking to bring something like that here," said Dr. Mordechai, who moved his firm from Mount Laurel to Hamilton about a year ago because of Hamilton’s central location. Medical Diagnostic Laboratories was founded in 1997 and serves mainly as a reference laboratory for polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based testing to physicians, laboratories, hospitals, and private accounts nationwide, according to the firm’s Web site. Dr. Mordechai sees the promise of the Route 130 corridor in his own business. Medical Diagnostic Laboratories, which has 250 employees, is growing at a rate of 50 percent annually and is adding 15 to 20 new employees each month, he said.
   "I would like to expand Einstein’s Alley," Dr. Mordechai said. "We would like to have this area for a migration for other biotech companies. We don’t want to convert it to a Route 33 or Route 1. We want it to be somewhere in between."
   Dr. Mordechai said it was important to draw service-oriented business to the Route 130 corridor to cater to the employees of the biotech and high tech firms officials and business leaders hope to lure there.
   Among the organizations involved in the effort to remake the Route 130 corridor are the state Office of Smart Growth and the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.
   Maura McManimon, executive director of the Office of Smart Growth, said many transportation corridors throughout the state have suffered from sprawling, strip-style development that isn’t connected to the communities along the corridors and continues to add to the traffic congestion.
   Ms. McManimon pointed to a planning coordination initiative along the Route 9 corridor in Ocean County as an example of municipalities working together to develop a land use plan for the corridor that works for everyone.
   For example, creating compact centers with grid-style street designs can provide more options for drivers while also providing more opportunities to walk, Ms. McManimon said.
   Designing the road itself so the motorist knows whether he is in a town, just on the outskirts, or in a higher-speed thruway can also help to create a sense of place at every turn along the corridor, she said.
   "This is definitely an initiative that we support," Ms. McManimon said.
   Barry Keppard, transportation planner for the Greater Mercer TMA, said any plan for the Route 130 corridor must include development that is easily accessible to the jobs that would be created by the new businesses that would locate there.
   A good transportation system also would help attract and retain business, Mr. Keppard said.
   "There really is a consideration with the way development happens and development accessibility," he. "If it’s done in a mutually beneficial way, it’s beneficial to everyone."
   Chris Ciaccio, owner of Tony’s Farm and Garden Center on Route 130 in Washington Township, said she believes any development along the highway will improve her business no matter what type of business locates there.
   "I’m very happy we’re going to develop it," said Ms. Ciaccio, vice president of the Washington Township Business Association. Her business has been a landmark on Route 130 for 65 years. "Change is always good. I welcome whatever we can to build up this highway.
   "When they get on this road, they’ll see there’s more to this town than gas stations," she said.