HILLSBOROUGH, NJ – He’s got the land; he’s got the design; he’s got the necessary permits – and finally, he’s got the money - $50 million or more.
He’s ready to go.
George Worth, project manager of the stalled Route 206 Bypass project for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, met with residents at the municipal building Wednesday to answer questions and provide updates on the partially-completed bypass, a four-mile stretch of road that when completed will extend from Old Somerville Road to Mountainview Road.
The bypass, first conceived in 1974, is expected to alleviate the chronic weekday and weekend congestion on the major north-south state highway.
The information session hosted by the NJDOT also included a public hearing on a planned land swap within the township involving a portion of the historic Van der Veer-Harris House property that is needed for the Bypass.
The township would trade about 1,100 feet of Route 206 frontage, 50 feet deep into the property, where there now exists a sharp bend in the present roadway at Old Somerville Road. Totaling 1.83 acres, that property would be swapped for a 12.99 acre parcel owned by the NJDOT on Township Line Road. That tract, adjacent to the Belle Mead Dairy Co-op and the CSX railway would be dedicated as open space.
The historic homestead sits on a 10.4 acre tract, about 250 feet off the highway and about 200 feet distant from any construction work.
“We have no intention of doing any harm to the house,” Worth said.
The State Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres program must approve the land swap.
Worth said bids for the site preparation and construction work should be ready to go out in the fall, with site preparation beginning before the end of the year, with construction expected to begin in spring, 2018. Completion of the final two sections of the roadway is expected in 2020.
“We want them out there clearing trees and coming back after the snow melt so that they can hit the ground running,” Worth said.
“There’s a lot to be done,” Worth added, emphasizing that the work will extend over three construction seasons.
In addition to the 2.3 miles of paved roadway, work includes off ramps, jughandles, utilities relocation, bridge construction and realignment of stream beds.
“We don’t want to make life miserable for those who live here,” Worth said, conceding there will be partial road closures, and work at night and on weekends.
Once the Bypass is open, the township will begin to unfold its plans to transform the existing two-lane state highway into a more aesthetic, less congested Town Center roadway for the sprawling municipality that will help to promote a Main Street corridor populated by restaurants and shopping, according to Mayor Carl Suraci.
Details of Phase III, as proposed by the NJDOT:
· Construct the proposed Route 206 Bypass as a divided highway, with two lanes in each direction, from the vicinity of Old Somerville Road to the vicinity of Amwell Road;
· Construct the proposed Route 206 Bypass as a divided highway, with one lane in each direction and a grass median, from the vicinity of Hillsborough Road to the vicinity of Mountainview Road;
· Construct bridges that will separate Hamilton Road and the CSX Railroad track from the proposed Route 206 Bypass;
· Construct intersections with traffic signals on the proposed Route 206 Bypass at Mountain View Road and in the vicinity of Old Somerville Road;
· Construct a noise barrier in the vicinity of Old Somerville Road;
· Construct a jug handle ramp at the existing Route 206 and Triangle Road intersection.
Work on Phase III of the project was shut down in August last year when the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund was running out of money.
Gov. Chris Christie and state legislators in October finally reached agreement on the 23-cent per gallon tax increase which went into effect Nov. 1. The estimated $53M price tag for completion of the Bypass will be paid by the TTF. Worth said there is a possibility bids may come in lower than that number.
Phase I of the project, which started in 2011 and cost $40 million, involved the clearing of land and construction of the first 1.7 miles of the bypass from Amwell Road to Hillsborough Road. It was completed in October, 2013. Christie presided at opening ceremonies, which included the naming of that section of the bypass for Peter Biondi, the former township mayor and state Assemblyman.
Phase II involved site improvements, utility work, preparation of the road bed and clearing trees on the remaining 2.3 miles of the planned Bypass on either end of the completed section. That work was completed in 2015.
Worth said first priority is construction on the northern segment of the roadway between Old Somerville Road and Amwell Road, including the Royce Brook bridge.
Worth said a 200-foot length of the Royce Brook stream bed will need to be reconfigured; much of that area in the vicinity of Old Somerville Road has a high water table and a population of wood turtles, which was singled out in the environmental permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection:
“In order to protect the wood turtle habitat within and adjacent to Royce Brook and Royce Brook Tributary B, the following timing restrictions shall apply:
“In stream work (including stream bank excavation): In order to prevent adverse impacts to hibernating turtles, no site preparation disturbance, grading, clearing or construction activity is permitted within the banks of the referenced watercourse between Nov. 1 and April 1.”
The Indian bat, an endangered species, is also singled out for protection by the DEP.
NJDOT field work, including a wildlife census determined there was a concentration of the Indiana bat in the project area.
The permit specifies, “In order to protect potential summer habitat for the federally listed Indiana bat, no tree clearing is permitted from April 1-Sept. 20. In addition, reforestation plans for the site shall include planting suitable roost trees for the Indiana bat.”