HOPEWELL VALLEY: School board asks Mercer County to address Route 579 safety

Resolution requests elimination of passing zone and decrease in speed limit

By Reem Nasrm Staff Writer
   The Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education passed a resolution Monday aimed at the elimination of the passing zone and a decrease in the speed limit on Route 579 in the area of Bear Tavern Elementary School.
   The resolution asks the Mercer County Department of Transportation to lower the current speed limit of 35 mph on Route 579, also known as Bear Tavern Road. No suggestion for a replacement speed limit is noted in the resolution.
   Bear Tavern is located at 1162 Bear Tavern Road and houses about 553 students between the ages of 3 and 11. The current speed limit is considered too high by the board. The resolution aims at creating a safer atmosphere for the students.
   The passing zone is located directly in front of the school and is considered unsafe, especially during arrival and dismissal times.
   The resolution calls for an examination by county transportation officials of the speed limit and passing zone to determine their safety and impact on the school.
   All board members were in favor of this resolution.
   THE BEAR TAVERN ROAD issue is not new, having been a topic at the June 24 meeting of the Hopewell Township Committee.
   About 50 residents attended that session at which the possible impacts, including traffic, of the planned replacement of the historic Jacobs Creek Bridge, at the southern end of Bear Tavern Road, were discussed.
   The existing bridge has a 3-ton weight limit and a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit and is just wide enough for two small or mid-size vehicles to go over it at the same time. Many residents who live near the bridge are worried about the impact on traffic the new bridge might have.
   On hand that night were Chief County Engineer Gregory Sandusky and other traffic and engineering officials of Mercer County, which has jurisdiction over the bridge.
   Township resident Kim Robinson, who attended that meeting, said more than 175 people had signed a petition calling on the county to do a thorough traffic analysis of Route 579, from the bridge north to the Hunterdon County line.
   The petition said the analysis should result “in an all-encompassing plan, addressing, but not limited to, speed control, appropriate location of passing zones, trucking limits and traffic appeasements that will ensure the safety of residents, motorists and the (Bear Tavern) school community. . .”
   That night, George Fallat, a county engineer who accompanied Mr. Sandusky, said the existence of the passing zone in front of Bear Tavern School is “totally inappropriate.”
   Mr. Sandusky indicated the county was willing to “close that passing zone.”
   In order for the county to make that change, he said, it would need a written resolution requesting it from Hopewell Township. The county then could pass a law eliminating the passing zone, he said.
   Mayor Vanessa Sandom said Tuesday that the committee is expected to adopt the necessary resolution at a meeting of the Hopewell Township Committee in August.
   The bridge itself is to be moved to Alliger Park, where it will give walkers and cyclists a way to cross Woolsey Creek. That park is located off Route 546.
   More than the bridge is slated for replacement. The T-intersection of Bear Tavern Road with Jacob’s Creek Road, south of the bridge, is to be replaced by a merging of the roads into one another. Some residents feel this would be less safe — because, they say, it would increase speeding and bad driving in general — than having the stop sign that is in place now.
   Speed limits on Bear Tavern Road are another concern for area residents. As one comes off the bridge, headed north on Bear Tavern, the posted limit is 35 mph. It stays that way for about a quarter mile.
   Then, near the entrance of Janssen Pharmaceutica, which has a large office-research campus, the limit goes up to 50 mph and stays that way until one approaches Bear Tavern School about a half mile north of Janssen.
   Signs near the school, which are equipped with flashers, say the limit is 35 mph when children are present.
   Many residents at the meeting said the limits should be lowered. Resident Chris French, for example, said all speed limits should be 25 mph within a mile and a half of the school.
   Most residents who spoke said a speeding problem that already is very bad would get a lot worse once the new bridge is put in and the traffic flow just south of it realigned. The residents fear these “improvements” would increase the volume of traffic and the overall speed of the traffic.
   County officials said they were studying the road and conferring with township officials about it. However, they said they could not commit then to lowering speed limits. The road must be studied first, they noted.
   IN OTHER BUSINESS, the school board OK’d agreements between the school district and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association. In a “green” initiative, the district is switching from the traditional cardboard milk carton to a plastic milk bottle — allowing the district to recycle the containers, which was previously impossible because of the waxy coating on the cardboard cartons.
   The Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association also will provide a $9,286 grant to promote the use of bottles.
   A School Milk Pilot test conducted by the National Dairy Council showed that when milk is served in plastic bottles and attractively merchandised, more children were likely to drink it. Currently, about 77 percent of children between 9 and 19 do not meet the recommended daily intake of three dairy servings a day. The move by the district to change milk vendors is an effort to increase milk consumption in schools.
   According to board Secretary Robert Colavita, the grant will be used to purchase new coolers for the milk and a more attractive recycling bin.
   The money also will enable the district to purchase a new computer checkout system for the lunchroom. The grant allows the school to become more green and environmentally friendly.
   ”This enables us to do all that with no cost to the district,” said Mr. Colavita.