WEST CALDWELL, NJ — A discussion of ongoing traffic issues dominated Tuesday's West Caldwell council meeting, where residents of the area adjacent to Central Avenue, a county road, voiced their concerns, suggestions and frustrations to Mayor Joseph Tempesta, Jr. and members of the township council.

Prior to hearing from residents, Tempesta offered an update on the subject based on his communication with the county.

Noting that the speed limit had been permanently reduced from 35 miles per hour (mph) to 25 mph two years ago, Tempesta said there are still major areas of concern. He noted that the county had initially installed rumble strips in order to slow the stream of traffic, but that these were eventually removed due to feedback from residents claiming they were ineffective. Requests have also been made for flashing lights and/or additional signage in the area, he said. 

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During the Nov. 6, 2018 council meeting, the governing body approved a resolution that was submitted to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders endorsing the addition of traffic control devices on Central Avenue at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Stonybrook Road. At the time, the governing body identified this as a “dangerous area for students, school walkers and bicyclists” and requested “the necessary traffic analysis of this location to implement the appropriate safety improvements.”

Tempesta reported on Tuesday that when the county monitored the area and gathered data, it was determined that the area “did not meet the criteria to warrant and justify a light.” However, the municipality noted that the estimated cost of $300,000 to install traffic control devices can be split between the township and the county equally. 

Tempesta announced that he would “continue to press for safety measures” during his next meeting with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr and Essex County Engineer Sanjeev Varghese.

Some long-and short-term remedies presented on Tuesday would prevent left turns onto Washington and Stonybrook, but some residents were concerned that this could create other issues. One solution being considered is to change the drop-off site at Washington Elementary School by moving the blue spruces currently laying adjacent to the roadway in order to create a semi-circle and allow for a drop-off area on school property.

Councilman Stanley Hladik remarked that several solutions to this have been discussed because Washington has no drop off despite being located on one of the busiest streets. He further noted that “driver inattentiveness is the leading cause of accidents.”

Mark Bulik, a resident of Central Avenue, attended his third council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the accidents and hazardous conditions occurring immediately in front of his home.

“Someone is going to die unless something is done,” said Bulik. “Traffic studies, more radar guns and lowering speed limits doesn’t mean anything unless there is enforcement.”

Julie Camp, a resident of Washington Avenue, offered several well-received suggestions to assist in making the area safer for motorists and pedestrians. Her recommendations included increasing signage near the school to alert drivers that they are entering a school zone; installing speed bumps; extending the hours of the crossing guards; installing mirrors so that motorists can see in blind spots; making Washington a one-way; placing cones in the middle of the road; and/or adding flashing lights to attract motorists’ attention and slow them down. 

Tempesta responded that he intends to follow through with some of these suggestions immediately.

According to Tempesta, data indicates that the previously reported approximation of four accidents annually in this area has recently increased to eight accidents annually. He stated that this upward trend “is due to driver inattentiveness.”

“People today just don’t care,” he said. “I love some of these suggestions and we will do the ones we can do, and I will beg the county help us here.” 

Residents who have attended county freeholder meetings and contacted freeholders individually to discuss their traffic concerns on the county road expressed frustration that there has been a lack of response. Councilman Michael Crudele reminded residents that the county did respond by installing the rumble strips and some signage, but that there “is obviously more to do.”