A plan to “calm” traffic along Irvine Turner Boulevard has instead riled up many residents of the area, members of the Newark Municipal Council said during a city hall meeting yesterday.
But city engineering officials countered that the project, which was first proposed in 2003, will leave the area far safer for both pedestrians and motorists when it’s completed in November.
Work on the $5 million project began in January 2011 and involves Irvine Turner Boulevard from Clinton to Springfield avenues, Jones Street between Springfield and South Orange avenues and Norfolk Street between South Orange Avenue and West Market Street.
Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif said yesterday that residents of the area, especially seniors living in the Grace West Manor homes near Irvine Turner and Avon Avenue, call his office “daily” to complain about the project, under which a median barrier, raised intersections, bike lanes, new sidewalks and new signals are being built. The project is intended to make Irvine Turner safer by regulating the traffic on the roadway, which cuts through a residential area and is used by motorists to travel between I-78 and downtown.
Of particular concern for council members are the medians, which are designed to encourage pedestrians to use crosswalks instead of crossing at random points along the wide, well-traveled throroughfare, a practice which for years has led to accidents.
But residents of Grace Manor have expressed concern that the median will make it difficult for emergency vehicles to turn into the complex, Sharif said. Although the project was reviewed and approved in 2006 by various stakeholders -- including residents and first-responders -- Sharif said the design should be modified to include a gap in the median near Grace West so emergency vehicles have easy access.
“I can’t accept that because it wasn’t approved then we can’t address it again,” Sharif said.
“I blame myself for not asking the right questions in 2006,” said Councilwoman-at-Large Mildred Crump, who belonged to the council while the project was being reviewed. Yesterday Crump -- who like Sharif also said she has been getting many complaints from residents of the area -- suggested an ordinance requiring artist’s renderings be included with any project up for approval so residents and officials can get a better sense of the final result.
“Nobody had any idea other than you all knew what it was going to look like,” Crump said yesterday while addressing staff from the engineering department. “People in the area are incensed.”
Jack Nata of the city’s engineering department responded that it might not be possible to make major modifications to the project now, because funding guidelines require the city to largely stick to the plan it had submitted several years ago. Addressing concerns about first-responder access, Nata also said that representatives of the police and fire departments, as well as representatives from area hospitals, took part in the vetting process in 2006 and approved the Irvine Turner improvements.
Nata added that while traffic flow might now be impeded as the project is underway, once construction is completed, traffic should flow far more smoothly. Among the features that will calm traffic are signals that will be wired into a control center, allowing staff to directly manage the lights’ timing.
The work in the Irvine Turner area is part of a $27 million plan to improve roadways and sidewalks throughout the city this year. Among those projects are the installation of 65 “speed humps” in the West Ward as well as corner “bump outs” which will shorten the distance pedestrians have to travel to cross the street. Also included is a $1.2 million streetscape improvement plan along Ferry Street in the East Ward, a $1.8 million streetscape project along Broad Street, and a $4.7 million renovation plan at Mt. Prospect Avenue and Lower Broadway. In addition, 18 streets throughout the city will be resurfaced.
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