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Task Force Preparing Options for Ridge Traffic Report

Mayor said 'marathon' meeting planned Wednesday to draw up options for March presentation.

Bernards Mayor Carolyn Gaziano said there will be a marathon meeting later Wednesday of a specially appointed task force to draw up a detailed list of options, citing pros and cons, for proposed solutions for easing morning traffic at with the goal of releasing a public report in late March.

Gaziano said township officials on the task force could report back at the Township Committee meeting in March. Only one committee meeting is scheduled during the month, on March 12. She said it will depend on how much the group gets done at Wednesday's meeting on whether a report will be ready by that date. 

Gaziano said the report might include detailed study and maps of up to 10 different scenarios.

School officials already said last week they are aiming to present the report at the Board of Education meeting scheduled for March 28.

Gaziano said the task force, including members of the Township Committee, school board and also school and township professionals, would meet again if there is disagreement about the best option to select.

Even after meeting since last fall, Gaziano said of task force members, "I don't know if we are all on the same page."

She said the task force is aiming to have a decision in time for any necessary construction to implement a proposed solution during the summer, when school is out of session. If that is the case, the school district would need time beforehand to go out to bid, and hire a contractor, she said.

"We are discussing a wide range of ideas," Deputy Mayor John Carpenter said at last week's Township Committee meeting. Some of those ideas were generated by an earlier meeting at which the task force accepted public comment, and some were offered by task force members, he said.

In the past — and at a public input session held before the task force in December — residents have again opposed the continuation of morning high school bus drop-offs behind the Cedar Hill Elementary School. Neighbors in the Homestead Village area say that extra bus traffic creates dangerous conditions on their narrow streets.

Meanwhile, South Finley Avenue residents living right near the high school entrance, including Para Dhagat, said they oppose a plan along South Finley that would lead to taking further property from immediate neighbors for a supposed solution, such as one option in a report from Dean and Dolan Traffic Engineers issued earlier this year.

Many of those residents have encouraged the township to permit the option of allowing one-way traffic to enter the rear of the high school campus via a yet-unimproved driveway linking back parking lots with the municipal complex off Collyer Lane.

Despite the township's opposition to that plan, Gaziano said in December that the task force would examine all options with a fresh eye.

However, township officials have consistently called for school officials to solve Ridge's traffic problems on school property, even while allowing an extra exit to be routed through the Township Health Department's property off South Finley Avenue. Another option discussed is to make that exit a one-way entrance in the morning, and to create another one-way lane leading to the back parking lots. But that option also calls for the possible addition of a turning lane on South Finley Avenue, a county road.

"All of the options have positives and negatives," she said on Tuesday.

In response to a question last week about why all of the task force meetings haven't been open to the public, Carpenter said last week the members have wanted to meet in a forum where they could openly have "candid conversations," at workshops.

Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said the report could be ready for a presentation by the second meeting in March, which is on the schedule for 7 p.m. on March 28 at the Performing Arts Center at Ridge High School.

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