HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Gov. Murphy's stay-at-home executive order has actually worked in favor of the Route 206 Bypass.
Deputy Mayor Shawn Lipani, who moved to the township in 1970, said he's never seen traffic on Route 206 as light as it's been the past 3-4 weeks, suggesting at a recent Township Committee meeting that the dearth of traffic represented "the silver lining" in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
"I'm always trying to find a way to make something good out of a bad situation," he explained.
The light volume of cars and trucks on the state highway has made it easier for work to start up at the northern end of the 4-mile bypass, with a realignment of traffic patterns going into effect and work beginning on Wednesday, pushing traffic off of the old Route 206 south of the Hamilton Road overpass on to a portion of the new bypass for several hundred yards, before reconnecting with the old Route 206.
The realignment requires cars having to make a hard left, or hard right, depending on the direction of traffic to follow the temporary detour, according to Lipani. Having to do so with the normal volume of traffic would have caused serious back-ups, especially during rush hour, he said.
The long-awaited completion of 4-mile Route 206 Bypass is expected by the end of 2020, and will shift traffic to a four-lane highway and trigger a redesign of the "old" Route 206 into a bucolic corridor of restaurants and retail stores, according to township officials.
For the past two years, motorists have had to navigate shifts in roadway alignments bordered by road cones, barrels with reflective orange and white stripes and temporary concrete barriers
Work on the multi-pronged project is either on or ahead of schedule; the new Hamilton Street overpass opened in October 2019, six months ahead of schedule. Additional work has to be done at the southern terminus of the Bypass close to Mountainview Road.
Mayor Doug Tomson said earlier this year that one of his top priorities in 2020 is to closely monitor the project, which has experienced a series of stops and starts since the first 1.7 mile stretch of the Bypass was completed in 2013.
George Worth, project manager for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, expects all work to be completed by the fall.
When completed, the Route 206 Hillsborough Bypass will shift through-traffic onto the Bypass to the east of the existing highway between Mountain View Road and Old Somerville Road, creating opportunities for the development of a town center along the current Route 206 in Hillsborough.
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 Tomson, who was yet to be born when talk about a bypass and a downtown first started in the early 1970s.
"Everyone is champing at the bit to get started planning for a downtown district," Tomson said. "We don't have a traditional downtown like Somerville or Morristown, so it's difficult right now to envision how it would look."
Once the new traffic pattern goes into effect, it will be easier to get a feel for the expected decrease in traffic volume on the "old" Route 206, Tomson said.
:I can't wait to get the governor and everyone out there to cut the ribbon and open it up," Tomson said.
The township's Master Plan includes a vision for a downtown component, but that's only on paper, Tomson noted.
"What we need to do is to reach out to the business owners, the investors," he said. "They're the ones who will make it happen. Government can only plan for it," Tomson added.
The 1.7-mile center section of the Bypass was built first as part of a $44 million state-funded contract. It was completed in October 2013. The $36.6 million state and federally-funded Contract B now in effect is paying for the final phases of construction.
The project includes stretches of highway from Mountain View Road to Hillsborough Road on the southern end and from Amwell Road/CR 514 to Old Somerville Road on the northern end.
The Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough was first considered as early as the 1970s, as the community began to develop. It remained only a concept until the early 2000s. Following the necessary environmental studies, in June of 2007, the NJDOT presented its plan for the Bypass to the Hillsborough Township Committee.
It took until August of 2010, for the township and state officials to break ground and officially start construction on the 1.7-mile mid-section.
At the time of the groundbreaking, the planning stages for the second phase, known as Contract B, had an estimated start date of 2012. However, by March of 2012, NJDOT confirmed that the Bypass project timeline would exceed what was originally anticipated, however, they also reaffirmed their commitment to the completion of the project.
On July 18, 2013, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill officially renaming the Route 206 Bypass to the “Peter J. Biondi Bypass.” in honor of the late Assemblyman and Hillsborough Mayor Peter J. Biondi. An official dedication and road opening occurred later that same year.
First conceived in 1974, the bypass is expected to alleviate the chronic weekday and weekend congestion on the major north-south state highway.
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.
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.
Work shut down in 2015 as the state wrestled with solutions to fund the depleted state Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for road improvements. The 23-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase approved by former Gov. Chris Christie in November 2016 replenished the fund, releasing $53 million for the final phase of the Bypass.
Construction of the final phase of the Bypass resumed in the Spring of 2019. The existing highway will be widened north of the Bypass towards Camplain Road.
“There’s a lot to be done,” Worth said.
In addition to the 2.3 miles of paved roadway, work includes off ramps, jughandles, utilities relocation, bridge construction and realignment of stream beds.
Details of Phase III include:
· 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;
· Construction of 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.