SOMERVILLE, NJ - Mayor Dennis Sullivan announced his intentions to find a way to permanently divert daily drive-through Main Street traffic to Veterans Memorial Drive and designate the alternate roadway as Route 28/Business during his State of the Borough address at the Jan. 1 Reorganization meeting.
A dialogue with Borough Council members begins at Tuesday night's virtual meeting. A link to the virtual meeting can be accessed on the borough's website, somervillenj.org
"The best thing for us to do is to have a discussion and brainstorm what approach we want to take," Sullivan said Monday. "I'm sure we will have a consensus on the council to pursue it," he added.
Shifting the bulk of traffic from downtown Somerville to Veterans Memorial Drive, which parallels Main Street and the NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley tracks, would enable the borough to better control activities planned in the downtown restaurant and shopping district that attract event-oriented visitors and their business to Somerset County's downtown, according to Sullivan.
Those events require that the street be free of vehicular traffic.
Because Main Street is a designated stretch of Route 28, a state highway, the New Jersey Department of Transportation must approve any plans to shut down the roadway. There is precedent for those requests, with the NJDOT shifting traffic to Veterans Memorial Drive for the annual Memorial Day Weekend Tour of Somerville bicycle races; spring and fall street fairs, the Central Jersey Jazz Festival in September, the St. Patrick's Day Parade in March and other firemen's parades.
However, the borough was denied permission to shut down Route 28 on select weekend days and nights this summer; the Downtown Somerville Alliance was hoping to create a Main Street dining plaza for restaurants to provide outdoor seating and increase revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As a new initiative, we must begin a dialogue with the Department of Transportation to designate Veteran’s Memorial Drive as State Highway 28 Business," Sullivan said in his prepared remarks during the Reorganization meeting.
"This will allow us to reclaim Main Street as a purely local road under our sole jurisdiction. That way we will no longer have to beg Trenton’s permission to close Main Street for events that bring energy and commerce to town. This action will complement the efforts of the Downtown Somerville Alliance and our merchant community to foster activity and prosperity to commercial properties whose success is so vital to Somerville’s tax base," Sullivan added.
"This is not anything I see happening overnight," Sullivan said Monday, "but if I can get some local control of that road we can avoid the travesty of last year with the restaurants unable to serve outdoors. My intention is to use Main Street as an outdoor venue, that's my main goal."