The following letter was submitted by Eileen Walsh, a South Finley Avenue resident whose property borders Ridge High School property. She addressed the Bernards Board of Education at Monday night's meeting.
To the editor,
I am writing to confirm the comments that I offered at last evening’s Board of Education meeting regarding the Ridge High Traffic Study and address a few points that were offered in response.
Where Are We Now? As I understand it, the BOE has been pursuing a single option (“Concept C”) which would widen both Ridge High’s secondary driveway and South Finley Avenue. A drawing and an aerial photograph prepared by Dolan & Dean showing Concept C were made available to the public last evening and Concept C is to be reviewed with members of the Township Committee next week.
I understand that Concept C (a) requires county approval (and it was unclear to me as to whether Somerset County has actually approved Concept C in its current form); (b) will cost a minimum of $121,000 (with the cost presumably increasing significantly once the expenses of widening South Finley are added), (c) is inconsistent with the Township’s Master Plan, which discourages the widening of local roads, in order to preserve the character of our neighborhoods; and (d) two members of the Township Committee have stated that they do not support the widening of South Finley.
Although I was not able to hear all of Mr. Byrne’s remarks last evening, I believe he expressed some concern about police officers’ ability to drive along South Finley Avenue when responding to an emergency. From my front porch, I can see that this is a challenge for them at times. However, with the additional lane of traffic that Concept C would bring, and the additional concentration of traffic in that area, it can only become more difficult for police officers to get through the South Finley intersection to respond to an emergency. Also, Concept C creates a scenario where teenage drivers, often late for school and without the benefit of a traffic signal, will be making a lefthand turn against oncoming traffic into the Ridge High campus. This can only create safety risks.
What Happens if the Township Committee and/or Somerset County Does Not Approve Concept C? As Nick Markarian apparently denied the existence of any “Plan B” following your September 10 meeting, it appears that the BOE would be back at “Square One."
What’s The “Problem” and Who Should Be Responsible For Solving It? As I suggested last evening, “the problem” can be defined in at least two ways: (1) traffic congestion on the Ridge High campus itself; and (2) related traffic congestion at and around the South Finley/Lake Road/ Ridge High driveway. I’d also suggest that, by isolating and first focusing on the problem of congestion on the Ridge High campus itself, the current problem of congestion at and around the intersection may be alleviated, making it unnecessary to take any additional measures that would impact South Finley at all or affecting the nature and/or extent of any further actions that may be necessary or advisable.
As to who should bear responsibility for solving the first problem, I hope we can agree that property owners are responsible for solving their own problems, not pass them on to their neighbors. I know I am. Traffic congestion on the Ridge High campus itself should first be addressed by its Administration. I’ve reviewed past Board minutes and see no indication that Ridge High Administration has made any effort to do so. Instead, Ridge High Administration essentially “washed its hands” of its problem by first passing it on to Homestead Village (prompting understandable pushback from those residents); the BOE seems to have then tried to pass the problem on to the Township Committee, by apparently trying to force the Committee’s approval to utilize the municipal complex; and the BOE now seems to be prepared to impose yet further hardship on South Finley residents through its “push” for Concept C.
Several solutions have been made in recent months, both in the Dolan & Dean study and from South Finley neighbors, that Ridge High may be able to implement on its own, without affecting either Homestead Village or South Finley residents. However, Ridge High Administration has never been called upon to address these suggestions or implement them, on even a trial basis. Before considering measures with “external” ramifications on local neighborhoods, I believe that the BOE should require Ridge High to explore all possible “internal” solutions (i.e., those within its exclusive control) and, to the extent that the Administration claims that any or all of them are unworkable, the Administration should be required to specifically state its bases for concluding they are not feasible, not simply present the Board with conclusory and unsupported speculation. Yes, this is hard work, but the Administration should not be permitted to take the “easy out” of passing its problem on to its neighbors.
If Concept C is not Approved, How Can the Interests of All Stakeholders Best be Considered? Before confirming my suggestion, I’d like to make two points. First, if I understood you correctly, I believe you stated that the Dolan & Dean study presented the “municipal complex” option as its “principal recommendation." I come to a different conclusion, but let’s put that disagreement aside. Second, I have no doubt that the Facilities Committee has worked hard to develop alternatives and solutions to this problem and has been mindful of the large number of Homestead Village residents who were impacted by bus rerouting. However, while we are much fewer in number, South Finley neighbors have already borne more than our fair share of the effects of past imperfect “solutions” and, quite honestly, it appears that our interests and concerns have, to date, been completely ignored.
As I mentioned last evening, Board Policy 9140 provides for the formation of an Ad Hoc Citizens’ Advisory Committee and it seems that the current situation is ideally suited to the creation of such a committee. In fact, I understand that such a committee was actually formed earlier this year to assist the BOE in its efforts to address Ridge High’s traffic problem, but I could find nothing in BOE meeting minutes as to its composition, findings and recommendations, if any. In any event, such an Advisory Committee would not have had access to the Dolan & Dean study or other subsequent input and detailed suggestions from my neighbor, Bill Connors (obviously including the detailed plan Mr. Connors submitted to the BOE last evening), and to a suggestion that I have previously made regarding use of the Community Center.