ABSECON — A number of residents voiced concerns at the City Council meeting Dec. 21 about a state proposal to construct a roundabout on New Road, even though the issue was not on council’s agenda for the night.

The state Department of Transportation presented a plan to council Dec. 7 to convert the five-way intersection at Mill, Pitney and New roads into a roundabout as part of its Pavement Resurfacing Project, which targets certain sections of New Road in Absecon and Somers Point.

Many residents who spoke expressed concern about how traffic would flow into and through the roundabout, and whether the structure would reduce traffic congestion as state representatives have claimed.

According to the DOT, traffic would proceed counterclockwise, with vehicles entering the roundabout yielding to those already in it. Signs would be provided to help drivers navigate the roundabout, state representatives said.

Diane Mason, who lives on Woodcrest Avenue, said she doubted all drivers would know how to safely enter and exit the roundabout.

“If you were to ask anybody off the street today, ‘Who has to yield in a circle?’ you’re going to get two different answers: The person in the circle yields to the person coming in from the right, or the person coming into the circle has to yield to the person in the circle,” Mason said.

She expressed doubt that it would reduce congestion, and speculated that traffic could easily be disrupted if an accident occurs.

“All it takes is one scared driver to come to a screeching halt, and it's all backed up. I don’t necessarily know if this circle is the best way to keep things moving,” Mason said.

Mark Mazzone, who lives on Pitney Road at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, said distracted drivers could disrupt traffic, causing a “rippling effect,” and that aggressive drivers speeding into the circle could pose a threat.

Due to its narrow design, 15 mph would be the maximum speed vehicles could travel in the roundabout, according to the DOT.

Mazzone argued that instead of reconstructing the intersection, the speed limits should be enforced on Pitney Road.

“There’s no enforcement on that road. The problem here is that if you guys do this, what if you’re wrong? The only people who suffer are the ones who live right around there,” he said.

Council members Chris Seher and Frank Phillips both said increased enforcement would require more manpower than the city has available.

“I know tickets are up. Tickets are up by double if not more, so the Police Department is writing tickets on the same areas you’re talking about. They just can’t be out there 24 hours a day,” said Phillips, who is chairman of the public safety committee.

Brenda Daniels, who lives at the corner of New Road and Delaware Avenue, asked whether the current speed limits on Route 9 and Pitney Road could be reduced.

Route 9 and Pitney Road are owned by the state and county, respectively, and City Council cannot control the speed limits. However, council members discussed the possibility of using the roundabout proposal to reopen the conversation with the state.

“Maybe this would be an avenue for us to petition the state to lessen the speed limit if we were to agree for the roundabout,” Councilman Keith Bennett said.

Council members and the public both stressed the importance of providing safe pedestrian crossings.

“Right now we have lights. If you take away the lights, how does a child know when to cross and when not to cross?” Mason asked.

Mayor John Armstrong said he agreed that safe crossings are critical with the high volume of schoolchildren who cross the intersection, but said the intersection as it stands poses risks.

“I know from having been out there that there are risks now even with that light with children crossing, because you’ve got the traffic that is stopped by that red light, but you’ve also got the traffic who is permitted to make right-hand turns or left-hand turns with the green light,” Armstrong said, noting that children crossing the road have to watch out for traffic and at the same time keep their eyes on the crossing guards.

He said the splitter islands in the DOT plan would require pedestrians to only have to watch out for traffic coming from one direction at a time before crossing. He also discussed the possibility of using extra signs like those at the Rowan University campus that signal to drivers when a pedestrian is crossing.

Steve Daniels, who lives on North New Road, said the state’s plan to widen the shoulder along New Road could also contribute to an increase in speeding, which prompted council members to consider other aspects of the state’s proposal.

Council members acknowledged the roundabout has received the most focus, but said they will also address other upgrades proposed in the project.

City Council encouraged the public to attend a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 16, at the Municipal Complex, when the state will present its plan again and answer questions from the public.

“It's important that we bring DOT back,” Armstrong said. “They should hear directly from the experts.”

The plan will be presented several times on a rolling basis over three hours, from 4-7 p.m., so people can arrive or leave at any time.

The council has fewer than 60 days to adopt a resolution supporting or opposing the roundabout while engineers can still make changes to the plan.

Council also adopted a resolution supporting state legislation that would designate areas within the boundaries of the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, Atlantic City International Airport and a 1-mile radius around them as a Garden State Growth Zone.

The designation would create tax incentives for businesses interested in building within a mile of the airport.

The bill aims to diversify the county's economy by establishing an aviation research and technology hub.

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