FLEMINGTON, NJ – As the public hearing into the electronic billboards proposed to be built on the Route 202 traffic circle continued Tuesday evening, attorney Jaclyn D’Arminio made a request of the borough’s Board of Adjustment.
She asked that the applicant – Flemington Outdoor LLC – be permitted to present "the entirety of our testimony before we open it up to public questions” or questions from the Board.
She explained that this would make “make sure the public has an opportunity to ask that question to the expert who’s best able to answer it.”
Todd Cooke called it a “good idea” and Board Attorney Kara Kaczynski recommended it.
Kaczynski said the only caveat would be that, “Everybody be permitted to ask all their questions of all of the witnesses, and if we don’t finish tonight, then all of the witnesses would need to appear at any subsequent meeting, be it at the next meeting or following meeting.”
D’Arminio agreed. But just hours later - and minutes before the hearing was to end at the customary time of 10 p.m. and before the public had any opportunity to ask questions - D’Arminio announced that, “Two of my witness are not available” at the next meeting set for Oct. 7.
The attorney asked the Board to “finish the public questions, at the very minimum,” that evening so her experts “wouldn’t necessarily be needed at the next meeting …. or, if at all possible, conclude the public questioning” that evening, Sept. 24.
“Maybe we can push it a couple of minutes,” Cook said, “We sort of had that agreement that if you want to do this they’ll have to come back if there are more questions.”
The public was then allowed to question the traffic engineer only for about an hour, with the meeting ending just after 11 p.m.
D’Arminio’s experts included engineer James Biegen and planner Daniel Bloch, but it was traffic engineer Maurice Rached who was targeted with the most questions.
Rached said that what’s planned for the circle aren’t really billboards. “I call them displays,” he said. “It’s a little bit different.” He dismissed notions that the three illuminated billboards would be a distraction to drivers.
Rached said studies suggest it is “reasonable to say” that drivers are distracted 20 percent of the time, and looking at the road 80 percent of the time.
“The presence of the display, all it does, it changes where we look 20 percent of the time,” Rached said, and does not increase distraction.
Rached testified that he’d driven through the circle thousands of times. “If I’m going around the circle here, instead of looking at a tree or something else 20 percent of the time, I may look at the displays,” he said.
Robert Clerico, who is the engineer who represents the Board, said the “area of concern” that he had - and that he thought had the greatest potential for driver distraction - would be the approach from Route 202-31 north, where drivers would enter the circle to continue on Route 31. At that point, they would have to yield to traffic entering the circle from Route 202 south.
At that point, the driver “has to make a decision, based on approaching traffic,” Clerico said. “Yet right in front of him is a sign.”
“It’s not a point of concern,” answered Rached, “because this type of intersection actually is a very simple one. Normally, when you get to a stop sign, and you have to look to the left and the right … and that’s why traffic circles are safer, because of that simplicity.”
Rached also testified that the sign there would not be within “the cone of visibility” for drivers in the circle.
At some points on the circle, the “message boards” would be “no more of a distraction than the landscaping that is installed in the middle of the circle,” Rached said. “You may gaze at the landscaping longer than you look at the signs.”
The public hearing on the plan will continue at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 in the old Historic Courthouse on Main Street.