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Millstone Bypass: A new road that could ruin old memories for Princetonians

I remember the day: I sat in the way-back of our station wagon, tense with anticipation, as we took the right turn off U.S. Route 1 onto Washington Road. I sensed that I was entering a special place as we passed beneath the majestic canopy of elm trees and crossed the bridge over the Delaware & Raritan Canal. Such was my first entrance to Princeton University as a freshman in 1979.

During the last century, countless others have shared in my experience because Princeton boasts what is arguably the most beautiful entrance corridor of any University or community in the land. Yet this corridor is in jeopardy, as well as several other unique historical and environmental treasures in the area. Why? Because of a proposed road called the Millstone Bypass that all Princetonians should be concerned about.


The Millstone Bypass is a proposed 2.5-mile road that would start at Route 571 in Princeton Junction, parallel the Millstone River behind Sarnoff, cross over Route 1, link to Harrison Street, parallel the D&R Canal and then reconnect to Washington Road (Route 571). Its purpose is to remove traffic lights from Route 1 and to "bypass" traffic around the Penns Neck (Washington Road on the other side of Route 1). Many challenge this proposal because of its impact on traffic and the environment — particularly to the elm allé on Washington Road, to the tranquillity of the D&R Canal Park and to the habitat near the Millstone River.

The bypass is part of a larger road network. Route 571 provides a link from the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 1 and Princeton. The New Jersey Department of Transportation has longstanding plans to expand Route 571 along this entire route and has recently completed the Hightstown Bypass to improve traffic flow at the connection to the turnpike. Route 571, including this new bypass, will become a major east-west traffic artery. The bypass will support additional development on Route 1, Washington and Alexander roads, and will direct even more traffic into Princeton. The bypass will change traffic flow into Princeton forever.

Furthermore, adding a major arterial road next to the D&R Canal Park and the unfragmented wetlands and woodlands in the Millstone River corridor will change the character and experience of these unique resources. The D&R Canal Park between Alexander Road and Harrison Street may be the most regularly enjoyed natural resource in central New Jersey. The wetlands and woodlands in the Millstone corridor are breathtaking and provide a unique habitat for many species. The congestion, noise, air pollution and road runoff associated with a major road will irreversibly change these areas.

In addition, the bypass will change the entrance to Princeton. The bypass will rejoin Washington Road near the D&R Canal and will eliminate several of the elms. This beautiful and historic portion of Washington Road includes the canopy of elms, Canal Park, the bridge over the waterway and the open lands. Imagine instead a busy intersection, honking cars, buses and trucks, with merge lanes to Washington Road fanning out in every direction. The bypass will forever change the historic entrance to this community and the connection to the past that all Princetonians share.

Finally, the bypass is a prime example of one of today's major policy debates (and mistakes) about sprawl. The bypass exemplifies the idea that we can build our way out of sprawling development and traffic problems. We have learned, however, that each extension of road only justifies the next spate of development. The bypass is an example of the NJDOT's routine practice of deciding to build a road before the environmental consequences are understood or before alternatives can be fully and publicly assessed as required by federal law. The bypass is an example of how we place new roads and development in open land, only to increase habitat fragmentation and jeopardize our few remaining pristine resources.

We need to rise to the challenge and envision an alternative transportation future that can move us from A to B while improving the environment and the quality of life. Central New Jersey does not necessarily need more roads — it needs an ambitious and daring plan of public transportation. We should start now.


We need to rise to the challenge and envision an alternate future that rebuilds our cities, concentrates development and preserves our remaining farmland and forests. Central New Jersey does not need to pave over more forests to build more roads and office parks — it needs a program to target public expenditures to revitalize cities and existing urban areas.

We need to rise to the challenge and envision a future that protects the dwindling natural resources that remain in central New Jersey. Given the pace of development in the last 20 years, our children will praise us if we protect what will surely become priceless in the future, and damn us if we do not.

Princetonians are well versed in the discourse of thought and policy. The Millstone Bypass presents an excellent example of a grand government decision that will carry with it a direct, irreversible local impact. I hope that students, alumni, teachers and residents alike will get involved in the decision whether to build the Millstone Bypass. At a minimum, we should all request a full analysis of alternatives, including public transportation and alternative strategies, before this new road, or any new road, is approved. George S. Hawkins '83 is the Executive Director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the environment in central New Jersey. He can be reached at

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