Route 130 safety study could give Burlington County leverage to fix road

There has been little public dispute that the 23 miles that stretch through 12 towns in the county and have claimed more than a dozen lives in recent years need improvement.

The Burlington County sheriff is seeking safety grants, and state legislators have proposed new bills to get tough on drivers. Now, the county wants to obtain funding for a safety study it hopes to use to lobby for road improvements and safety enhancements on the state highway.

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and the New Jersey Department of Transportation have grant money available to fund the study, and the county will seek those funds, said Joseph Donnelly, director of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders.

The study will identify specific problems on the highway that could include the timing of traffic lights, the need for additional crosswalks and pedestrian enhancements, speed restrictions and other issues. The study would include recommended solutions, too, Donnelly said.

“It’s the tool we need to then lobby, lobby, lobby for improvements,” he said. “It’s imperative that both driver and pedestrian safety along the Route 130 corridor be improved. The corridor has been a priority for the county for a long time.”

The county, municipalities and businesses along the corridor have spent more than a decade reversing and stemming the tide of economic downturn on and around Route 130. The River Route Advisory Committee has helped oversee the revitalization of the corridor with the addition of commercial, residential and institutional growth, including Burlington County College’s Willingboro Center in the Town Center development.

But with a highway that drivers openly admit to avoiding, it can be difficult to attract new businesses, and that hurts economic development efforts, officials said.

Donnelly presented the plan to apply for the study grants to the advisory committee last month and found support. The county also has resolutions of support from Burlington City, Burlington Township, Edgewater Park, Florence and Willingboro. The rest of the towns along the corridor are slated to vote this month.

“Once we have the plan, it will allow us to obtain the funding for necessary structural improvements for the roadway and connecting intersections,” Donnelly said.

The Cinnaminson Republican has seen the benefits of improvements in his hometown, with fixes at the intersection of Cinnaminson Avenue as part of a redevelopment project.

“These are real dollars available for the improvements that will get Route 130 off the most-dangerous-roadway list,” Donnelly said.

Since 2009, 16 pedestrians have been killed on Burlington County’s stretch of Route 130, earning the state highway the dubious distinction of being named by the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign as New Jersey’s most dangerous road for pedestrians each of the last five years.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, said in a recent letter to the editor to the Burlington County Times that in addition to increased road safety education and enforcement efforts, “the physical design of the roadway must change if there is to be any meaningful improvement.”

He said that while the addition of sidewalks, midblock crosswalks and pedestrian countdown lights along some sections in recent years was a good start, it is not enough.

“With Route 130’s outdated design, it’s dangerous for local residents to commute to work, buy groceries or visit their families on foot or bike,” Singleton wrote. “The entire corridor stretching from Bordentown to Palmyra needs to be revamped to allow all road users to reach their destinations safely.”

Singleton and Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delanco, introduced a three-bill legislative package earlier this month that seeks to increase fines for drivers who seriously injure or kill walkers or bicyclists, as well as motorists or pedestrians caught violating crosswalk laws, and to dedicate the additional money to pedestrian safety enforcement and education efforts.

One of the bills would divert 10 percent of all fines collected from traffic violations across the state to an existing New Jersey Department of Transportation fund that helps pay for road and sidewalk improvements for pedestrians and cyclists near schools. The bill would give preference to projects involving highways like Route 130 with a history of pedestrian deaths.

Also, Sheriff Jean Stanfield is awaiting word, which could come as early as Monday, regarding up to $250,000 in grants from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety to help pay for officer overtime for extra traffic enforcement along Route 130 as well as defensive driving, crossing guard training, and bike and pedestrian programs in towns along the dangerous corridor.

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