BURLINGTON CITY — The new traffic pattern on Route 130 — which looks to create congestion to slow vehicles down near city schools — is causing more confusion than traffic calming in its first few days.
The traffic pattern on the state highway was reduced from three lanes to two overnight Thursday in an effort by the New Jersey Department of Transportation to slow down traffic in the area, where vehicles have been clocked doing well over the posted 40 mph speed limit and failing to slow down to 25 mph during school zone hours. The lane furthest to the left in both directions was eliminated at the start of the school zone between East Federal and Wood Streets near Burlington City High School and the Wilbur Watts Intermediate School.
Some residents say the changes meant to calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety are creating more confusion among drivers. The lane elimination is marked by a curving yellow line painted on the road. Crews also painted SCHOOL in large white on both sides of the road. The change came while students are out of school for the week on spring break.
“When you’re used to the old way, it’s hard to get used to the change,” said Norman Carocci, of Florence. “I think it’s going to create more accidents.”
City police are also concerned new congestion will push traffic into nearby residential neighborhoods, particularly on Salem Road and Mott Avenue, said Burlington City Sgt. Todd Viereck, supervisor of the traffic unit. Police are monitoring the situation and will report any conflicts to the NJDOT. But they also know the road has been a trouble spot that needed improvement.
Speeding and improper passing have been problems on the highway for years, making the area dangerous for students crossing to or from school.
“We have clocked people going up to 60 mph during daytime hours,” Viereck said.
The Burlington City portion of Route 130 is part of the 23-mile stretch of highway in Burlington County that has become notorious for accidents over the years. The highway has been labeled the most dangerous road for pedestrians in the state by the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign for the past several years.
The section of the road running between the schools in Burlington City, where the speed limit is 25 mph between 7 and 9 a.m. and 2 and 4 p.m., is one of the most dangerous spots along the corridor. Of the 531 motor vehicle accidents in the city last year, 333 were on Route 130, according to city police Capt. John Fine.
Motor Vehicle Accidents In Burlington City
State and local officials have worked to calm traffic on Route 130 in Burlington City for the past few years. Of particular concern is the school zone between East Federal Street and Wood Street.
After 17-year-old Antwan Timbers was killed while walking along the highway last May, high school students were inspired to begin a campaign, “25 Saves Lives,” to improve safety along the corridor.
His death also moved State Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, to introduce legislation to raise traffic fines and permit towns and counties to reduce the speed limit on municipal or county roads directly adjacent to a school, to be in effect at all times rather than just the hours when students are traveling to or from school.
“Route 130 is the state’s most dangerous road for pedestrians year after year, with at least four deaths reported in the first three months of 2017 in Burlington County,” Allen said. "We don’t want to see any more of our children, friends or neighbors fall victim to this dangerous highway.”
Before those efforts, the city in 2015 requested the state transportation department do a traffic study to determine how to make highway conditions safer for pedestrians and drivers alike.
The department decided to reduce lanes to increase congestion and slow down speedy drivers, Fine said.
The state is also considering redesigning the intersection at Route 130 and Columbus Road, he said. A spokesperson from the state DOT was not available for comment Tuesday.
Fine said multiple residents have called the police department to inquire about the lane reductions and new traffic pattern since it was unveiled last week. He noted that Route 130 narrows to two lanes in the northern part of the county in Burlington Township and Bordentown Township.
“We will certainly adapt to the changes like everyone else will and make it as safe as possible,” he said.
Beverly resident Mary Keller has found it difficult to adjust to driving in two lanes. She said she was cut off by another vehicle Tuesday when the other driver realized there was no longer a third lane.
“I think it’s going to make people even more nuts,” she said.
Cathy Reeder, of Burlington City, said drivers should have been notified earlier to prepare for the change. The Police Department spread the word through social media and state crews placed signs on the road in both directions last week.
“There didn’t seem to be any warning at all,” she said.
Motorists won’t know the true impact of the changes until next week when students return to school, officials cautioned.
“A lot of this is yet to be seen,” Fine said.
But officials remain hopeful that there has been and will be more improvement.
While speeding remains a problem, county Undersheriff Bryan Norcross said drivers have slowed down in the school zone since the county implemented the Route 130 Safe Passage initiative in 2013, which involves stepped-up enforcement of speeders and distracted drivers. The county Sheriff's Department has undertaken several initiatives with the city police to help slow traffic, including driving along in the morning and afternoon rush hours to pace vehicles at the slower speed limit. Speeds have also come down during regular hours, too.
“We’re now seeing cars that are only in the 40s. We were seeing speeds in the 60s,” Norcross said. “In this school zone we are definitely seeing an improvement.”