By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – There are definitely mixed opinions about whether temporary traffic lights on Branch Avenue should become permanent.
For the Monmouth County engineer, the evidence is solid. Borough council members said they have yet to make up their mind, while a number of homeowners feel the signals on Branch Avenue at the Rumson and White roads intersections have got to go.
Many of those who live in the area made their feelings known during a special borough council meeting held Monday, Dec. 9, at Markham Place School.
“We’re all here for the same reason: traffic safety,” said Monmouth County Engineer Joseph Ettore as he outlined the county’s position on what were initially intended as temporary traffic lights.
Ettore has recommend that the lights be kept in operation. He said the data indicates there have been fewer accidents and accidents that have occurred have been less severe since the lights were installed about 1½ years ago.
“I’m not here for that,” Branch Avenue resident Keith Ryan told Ettore. “I’m here for my property values. I’m here for my quality of life.”
During the session Mayor Robert C. Neff Jr. and the council members stressed they were interested in hearing from borough residents and hadn’t come to a decision whether the lights should remain.
In July 2012 county engineers installed the temporary lights at the Branch Avenue intersections to accommodate the added traffic Branch Avenue was expected to get because of the extended closing of Seven Bridges Road for a bridge replacement and road project. The project took longer than first anticipated, due in large part because of the effects of Super Storm Sandy and utility infrastructure issues for the bridge area.
When the construction was completed in April, Ettore asked if the lights could remain in place longer so his office could collect data on traffic flow and safety.
Even before the lights were installed Branch Avenue residents, particularly in the area of the intersections, voiced their objections. They said the lights have negatively impacted their neighborhood and possibly their property values. They said with additional traffic cuing up at the lights, it has caused additional air pollution, noise from honking horns, and trash. Many said it is increasingly difficult to get in and out of their own driveways.
Hazel Kelly, who lives on Winfield Drive, showed photos of the traffic light reflection which streams into her home each night. “Because of that light, the assessor has lowered my taxes,” Kelly told the council. “My home has lost value.”
“I know this has had a dramatic impact on us and our neighbors,” said William Gearty of Branch Avenue.
While the majority of those in attendance voiced opposition, there were some who believed conditions were better with the lights and want them to remain. “I have children. I have grandchildren. I’m tired of the Russian roulette” with traffic, said Winfield Drive resident Fred Strand. “I like the lights for the safety.”
“Safety is the issue and it’s much safer with the lights,” added property owner Ken Laughinghouse.
A survey in a recent borough newsletter showed support for keeping the lights, Neff noted. That informal count so far had 277 households saying yes, while 99 were opposed to keeping the lights.
State Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-13, who is a Little Silver resident and was a borough councilman nearly 20 years ago when the county first began recommending the installation of lights on Branch Avenue, said he sees the situation now as an opportunity to work with the county and address most of the concerns.
“I’m convinced there is a way to get a minimally impactful solution to make those intersections safer and much more efficient,” said O’Scanlon, who has been a member the Governor’s Highway Traffic Safety Policy Advisory Council for nearly 20 years.
The decision of whether the light remain ultimately rests with the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, said Ettore, who will draft a report and submit it to the board. His report will certainly include the views of the borough council, with the freeholders giving local opinions considerable weight, he said.