Fort Lee closer to improved traffic signals

FORT LEE — An adaptive signal system that borough officials say will improve downtown traffic near the George Washington Bridge has received the first of three stamps of approval needed to move forward.

The Borough Council on Thursday approved a memorandum of understanding to install the system. The document now goes to Bergen County for approval, then to state transportation officials.

limo taxi car in fort lee nj
limo taxi car in Fort Lee NJ

The system should be installed this summer, Mayor Mark Sokolich said.

He said the traffic lights will be set up to “talk to each other” so that a vehicle won’t be forced to idle at a red light when there are no other cars crossing the intersection.

“We are among a handful of communities in the entire country that can boast this system,” Sokolich said before the council vote. “It has been proven to work incredibly well in many similarly situated municipalities.”

“Is it an end-all, cure-all to all traffic? Absolutely, positively not,” he said. “No one has suggested that. But we do believe it’s going to go a long way in promoting the free flow.”

Host to the world’s busiest bridge and with several highways feeding into the borough, Fort Lee is known for traffic. On an average weekday, some 16,000 vehicles travel on Palisade Avenue, a main road leading to the George Washington Bridge, while another 10,000 cars move through nearby Center Avenue, according to the Police Department.

And anticipating two 47-story luxury residential high rises and a massive retail-and-entertainment complex nearby, borough officials are bracing for more traffic. They’ve insisted that the developers install the high-tech traffic light system to mitigate some of the congestion.

The cost of the system, which will control about a dozen intersections downtown, is estimated to exceed $1 million and will be paid for by the developers, Sokolich said. Planning for the light system has gone on for two years, the mayor said.

After three former allies of Governor Christie allegedly conspired to shut down local access lanes to the bridge in September 2013 to punish Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing the Republican governor’s reelection bid, some speculated whether the scheme to cause traffic was an attempt to thwart plans for the borough’s largest redevelopment effort.

One of the former associates, David Wildstein, has pleaded guilty to a role in the lane closures. Bill Baroni, a former executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge, and Bridget Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, were indicted and have pleaded not guilty.

Christie has denied involvement or knowledge of the lane closings before they happened. Visiting Fort Lee shortly after the scandal broke, he reportedly encouraged Sokolich to call him if he could be of assistance in getting state approval for the adaptive traffic lights.

The new system would come on the heels of two other Main Street projects — the installation of a sewer line and a beautification effort that will include widening sidewalks and new building facades.

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