Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series on the history of the Route 206 Bypass, the challenges, setbacks and what lies ahead.
After all these years, a piece of Americana is planned for Hillsborough in the form of a town center as part of the Route 206 Bypass project.
The vision is that the vehicle-crammed highway, now lined with a chaotic mix of shopping centers, a few homes, strip malls and an occasional garden center, would be transformed into an orderly neighborhood of shops, green spaces, walking areas, homes and public buildings.
The town’s master plan, revised in 2005 to accommodate a town center district, describes the district as “designed to ensure the development of land as a traditional neighborhood similar to other existing villages and towns centers in New Jersey.”
“What we have in mind is Somerville,“ Hillsborough Business Advocate Gene Strupinsky said.
There will be shops and offices on the first floors of buildings and housing on the upper floors, he said.
The emphasis would be creating a walking district with space for bicycle paths, plazas and enough parking to support retail businesses, but not so much to overwhelm the district.
The center will have jobs, businesses and housing to create a neighborhood feel and break the cycle of busy days and empty nights, Strupinsky said.
The township by ordinance will call for state-of-the-art storm water and waste water systems, seek lower energy consumption through green building standards and promote renewable energy systems.
The township will also seek to protect the remaining rural areas by employing the transfer of development rights from those areas to the town center, the ordinance said.
The center concept is encouraged in the newly revised state development plan, which is undergoing public review. Town centers, transit-oriented development and redevelopment are three of the concepts the state is proposing as methods to slow sprawl, protect natural resources and open space and reinvigorate the state’s communities.
According to James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Policy, it's an example of the types of development that will become familiar as planners react to the decades of overdevelopment that marked the state since the 1960s.
Route 206 is an example of the state’s “first generation infrastructure,” Hughes said at a 2006 ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the Somerset County Planning Department.
That was followed in the 1960s and 1970s by new toll roads like the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike and followed again in the 1980s and 1990s by the completion of the interstate highway system.
“However, the future transportation outlook will be quite different because there is no equivalent highway capacity increment on the horizon—nor is there likely to be one,” Hughes said.
“So we don’t have to invent Somerset’s future transportation infrastructure. It’s already in place and major additions of new transportation capacity—such as a second Interstate System—are simply not in the cards,” he said.
What is coming, he said, is “an era of transportation capacity constraints.” Retooling the existing infrastructure will be critical. Regional centers, transit villages and smart growth strategies will increasingly move to the fore, as much more rational land use-transportation linkages are implemented.”
This concept is also recognized in Somerset County’s revised circulation planning documents.
“Mobility will degrade over the next 20 years with an increasing level of traffic congestion; travel under congested conditions is projected to increase by 25 percent,“ the plan said. “In the future, congestion can be mitigated but not resolved; each alternative 'buys back' about one-half of the degraded travel performance, but none restores conditions “
Increased transit ridership will help mitigate overall congestion along traffic-choked Route 206, the report said. Without a shift to transit, the county report warned, “worse levels of congestion and degraded travel speeds” would ensue.
Realtor Ken Worden, of , whose office is on Route 206, said the announcement of the town center plan is increasing interest in the real estate within the center area.
Larger brokers are trying to combine smaller lots into larger ones to accommodate the styles of development sought in the town center, he said.
There is also some speculation occurring, he said.
Not unexpected, Worden said. The town center will alter the Route 206 landscape of small lots into an orderly arrangement of larger lots to accommodate, multi-story buildings, narrower streets, sidewalks and the other features of the town center.
Worden, a 30-year real estate veteran with 25 years in Hillsborough, said the time is right for a busier real estate market, even with the potential of the town center. Interest rates are at record lows, there is a good inventory of homes on the market and prices, thanks to the recent poor economy, are also lower than traditional prices.
Worden said there are some concerns about the success of the bypass to reduce traffic congestion and aid the success of the town center.
The bypass just dumps the traffic back on Route 296 in Montgomery, he said.
In addition, he wants to see how drivers seeking to use or live in the town center are routed there and how pass-through traffic is handled. His concern is that too much of the traffic that could bring customers to the businesses in the district will simply bypass the town center.
But the township has the advantage of time, Worden said.
The bypass is not expected to be completed until 2017 or 2018, and as the highway project is completed, aspects of issues with the town center will emerge, Worden said.