Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series on the history of the Route 206 Bypass, the challenges, setbacks and what lies ahead.
It only takes a minute to understand why officials have sought for so long to build a bypass around a section of Route 206.
In that minute, 43 vehicles would have passed through the Route 206 intersection at Amwell Road, an average of one vehicle every 7.2 seconds.
Those figures are based on a traffic count done Jan. 4 to 5 by the state Department of Transportation that determined 59,796 vehicles passed through that intersection in 24 hours.
That’s an average of 2,592 vehicles an hour in both directions; peak rush hours generally see more than 4,000 vehicles an hour.
An idea since 1974, the Route 206 bypass as currently planned deals with a 3.6-mile stretch of highway from Old Somerville Road to Mountain View Road.
The bypass was conceived as part of a plan to reduce traffic congestion related to the rapid regional growth of homes, offices and others businesses in the early 1970s. Those plans included, at one time, the extension of an Interstate 95 bypass through Hillsborough and Montgomery.
When it was first conceived, Hillsborough had a population of roughly 12,000, according to the U.S. Census. In 2010, the township had 38,303 residents, approximately three times as many. The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, in its Plan 2035, long-range planning document, estimates Hillsborough‘s population would be 50,970 in 2035.
The bypass will carry traffic around a section of the state highway from New Amwell Road at the north to Andria Avenue where the township plans to create a town center that favors predestrian traffic over vehicles and mixed-use development rather than the clot of shopping malls, driveway cuts and clogged turning lanes that currently exist.
Township Business Advocate Greg Strupinsky said the goal is to create a downtown “like a Somerville.”
When the bypass is completed, the “downtown” section of Route 206 will no longer be a state highway and will become a township road, Strupinsky said.
One of the first projects for the new downtown section is Green Village, a mixed-use plan for 50 acres on Route 206 north.
The application, which was , calls for 469 apartments, 352 of which will be market rate and 117 units will meet the township’s affordable housing obligation, a clubhouse with recreational amenities, 20,000 square feet of retail space and a 130-room extended-stay executive suites hotel.
The $120 million bypass project was kicked off when ground was broken in August to start the first contract, state Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Greeley said.
The $43 million contact, called “Contract A” is to build the center portion of the bypass between Amwell and Hillsborough roads, he said.
The portion of the project includes building several new bridges that will carry the new Route 206 bypass over Homestead Road, the CSX railroad tracks, Royce Brook and a tributary of Royce Brook, he said.
A new bridge is also being built on Amwell Road to carry motorists on the local roadway over the new bypass. The new Amwell Road bridge is expected to open this spring and traffic will be shifted onto the new structure.
This contract is also rebuilding the superstructures of two bridges that carry traffic over the CSX railroad tracks on Hillsborough and Homestead roads, Greeley said.
Hillsborough Road was opened to traffic on March 23. Hillsborough Road had been closed at this location since April 2010.
Homestead Road between Route 206 and Willow Road was .
The following detours are now in effect:
- Route 206 motorists headed to Homestead Road will be directed to Amwell Road to Willow Road south to Homestead Road.
- Homestead Road westbound motorists are directed to Willow Road north to Amwell Road to Route 206.
Greeley said the next portions of the bypass project, the northern and southern ends where the new roadway will connect to the existing Route 206, are being designed.
Key issues in those sections are creating entrances and exits to and from the bypass, and extensive work to relocate or work around large utilities such as underground telecommunications lines, gas transmission pipelines and the CSX rail line.
Utility work is expected to begin in the spring or summer of 2013 and last between 12 and 18 months, Greeley said.
“This is a large project with construction activities progressing at multiple locations within the work zone, simultaneously,” he said.
“From very early on, the construction of this bypass roadway has been planned to unfold over multiple years and multiple contracts. Final design of the remaining project elements is in process and we have identified funding around $10 million in the upcoming fiscal year 2013 Capital Program for the utility work.”
Once the utility work is done, the project would be ready to advance to the final construction phase, he said.
The township council reported last month the as a result of delays with Contract B.
“We are certainly not pleased with the delay in the project timeline and need to ensure that DOT remains fully committed to funding and project completion," Deputy Mayor Gloria McCauley said in a prepared statement. "Having an incomplete Bypass serves no purpose."
McCauley, Committeeman Frank DelCore, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and freeholders Peter Palmer and Mark Caliguire met last month with members of the NJDOT, which assured the township it will secure funding for Contract B and hopes to have a 2017 completion date.
“While we all would’ve liked to have had this project completed sooner than later, we appreciate DOT’s recognition of the importance it has with respect to the economic development of Hillsborough,” Mayor Carl Suraci said in a prepared statement.