January 26, 2021

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Somerville Wants to Divert Main Street Traffic to Route 28 Business Bypass

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SOMERVILLE, NJ – Mayor Dennis Sullivan wants to permanently divert daily drive-through Main Street traffic to Veterans Memorial Drive and designate the alternate roadway as Route 28/Business.

Shifting the bulk of traffic from downtown Somerville to Veterans Memorial Drive, which parallels Main Street and the NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley tracks, would enable the borough to better control activities planned in the downtown restaurant and shopping district that attract event-oriented visitors and their business to Somerset County’s downtown.

Those events require that the street be free of vehicular traffic.

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Because Main Street is a designated stretch of Route 28, a state highway, the New Jersey Department of Transportation must approve any plans to shut down the roadway. There is precedent for those requests, with the NJDOT shifting traffic to Veterans Memorial Drive for the annual Memorial Day Weekend Tour of Somerville bicycle races; spring and fall street fairs, the Central Jersey Jazz Festival in September, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March and other firemen’s parades.

However, the borough was denied permission to shut down Route 28 on select weekend days and nights this summer; the Downtown Somerville Alliance was hoping to create a Main Street dining plaza for restaurants to provide outdoor seating and increase revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sullivan announced the initiative at the Jan. 1 Borough Reorganization meeting.

“As a new initiative, we must begin a dialogue with the Department of Transportation to designate Veteran’s Memorial Drive as State Highway 28 Business,” Sullivan said in his prepared remarks.

“This will allow us to reclaim Main Street as a purely local road under our sole jurisdiction. That way we will no longer have to beg Trenton’s permission to close Main Street for events that bring energy and commerce to town. This action will complement the efforts of the Downtown Somerville Alliance and our merchant community to foster activity and prosperity to commercial properties whose success is so vital to Somerville’s tax base,” Sullivan added

“The Borough Council and I will enlist the support of various partners in this endeavor, and I will keep you informed on ways you can help us achieve our goal,” the mayor said.

Sullivan also listed several ongoing initiatives familiar to residents – efforts to collect taxes, or payments in lieu of taxes, on a long list of properties designated as non-profits or that are county-owned; closure of the state Motor Vehicle Commission office on Roosevelt Place that has spawned problems in the surrounding residential neighborhood and drained borough resources and construction of a solar farm on the site of the borough’s former landfill along Route 206.

This is the text of Sullivan’s remarks:

“Dear Somerville Community,

“Welcome to the first, and hopefully last, virtual reorganization meeting of the Somerville Borough Council. When we met on the High School stage a brief year ago, who could have predicted the stormy path our ship of state would have to navigate in 2020? Yet that perilous journey has brought us to this day to reflect on the past and contemplate the future.

“A funny thing happened as I prepared these remarks. I found myself at a loss for words, and if you know me, that doesn’t happen very often.

“After a few fruitless attempts at my computer keyboard, I looked for a change of scenery to hopefully provide some inspiration. I went to Borough Hall and sat near the gallery of former Mayor’s portraits on the second floor, and I wondered what they might say to us as we begin 2021.

“After all, these past leaders guided Somerville through World Wars, the Great Depression, and the terrible flu epidemic of 1918. These challenges tested the strength of our fine community, and as is

the case today, Somerville tackles adversity with a collective spirit we can all be proud of.

“From its beginnings as a Borough under Mayor Charles Kenyon back in 1909 to today, Somerville Strong is real.

“We all remember the darkest days of the spring season; deserted streets, empty grocery shelves, darkened stores and schools, roped-off playgrounds. Yet we banded together to fight back to regain some normalcy in our lives.

“Children learned, people shopped, families worshipped, and essential services continued. With the prospect of widespread vaccinations on the horizon, Somerville begins the new year in a cautiously optimistic mood.

“Opportunity continues to be the cornerstone of our two square miles. I met many new homeowners this past year who chose Somerville for its schools, its downtown, and its neighborhoods. Private sector investors are bullish on Somerville, as you can see by the many new projects under construction or recently completed.

“Business owners want to be a part of our success, too, with new storefronts opening despite

uncertain economic times. The Borough Council and I recognize and appreciate the confidence shown in the future of Somerville, and we pledge our continued efforts to protect and nurture the hopes and dreams so many people bring into town.

“As the calendar turns and we enter 2021, the Borough Council sets goals and priorities for the upcoming year. I challenge this year’s Council to continue the proven record of fiscal responsibility shown by past Councils in crafting a municipal budget that balances the need for quality services with taxpayers’ ability to pay.

“Generating new revenue is the key to stable taxes, and we must continue to explore creative ways to lessen the tax burden on residential property owners.

“Somerset County owns property in Somerville that would generate almost $3,000,000 in taxes were it in private hands. Surely some of our county tax dollars could be returned to us for needed infrastructure improvements.

“Likewise, property owned by Somerset Medical Center would pay almost $5,000,000 in taxes but for its non-profit status. Real money like that could accelerate the building of our much-needed

Emergency Services Complex. Let’s start conversations with these important entities right away.

“Likewise, we must continue working with the State of New Jersey on matters of mutual interest. We must strengthen our partnership with the Department of Environmental Protection for funding and technical support as we transform the now-fallow landfill into a state-of-the-art solar farm. Clean energy and real revenue will flow into the Borough as this exciting project moves from concept to reality.

“We must continue to pressure the Motor Vehicle Commission to finally close their facility on Roosevelt Place; the neighbors have been more than patient, and too many Borough resources have been expended waiting for the DMV to act responsibly.

“We must continue to lobby New Jersey Transit to expand one-seat-ride opportunities into Manhattan, and we will work closely with our state and federal legislators to secure the funding needed to make that happen.

“And finally, as a new initiative, we must begin a dialogue with the Department of Transportation to designate Veteran’s Memorial Drive as State Highway 28 Business. This will allow us to reclaim Main Street as a purely local road under our sole jurisdiction. That way we will no longer have to beg Trenton’s permission to close Main Street for events that bring energy and commerce to town.

“This action will complement the efforts of the Downtown Somerville Alliance and our merchant community to foster activity and prosperity to commercial properties whose success is so vital to Somerville’s tax base. The Borough Council and I will enlist the support of various partners in this

endeavor, and I will keep you informed on ways you can help us achieve our goal. 2021 will be a busy year in town, and I look forward to working with the Borough Council as together we chart Somerville’s future course.

“As we close the book on 2020 and look confidently into the future, I would ask each of you to remember the many lives touched by the COVID virus, especially the seven families right here in Somerville that have lost a loved one. Words cannot express the sorrow shared by our fellow Americans throughout the land, but I offer this poem written by Henry Stevenson Washburn in 1861, just as the American Civil War was starting, to bring home the grief we collectively share as a nation and as a community.

‘The Vacant Chair”

We shall meet but we shall miss him.

There will be one vacant chair.

We shall linger to caress him

While we breathe our ev’ning prayer.

While one year ago we gathered,

Joy was in his mild blue eye.

Now the golden cord is severed,

And our hopes in ruin lie.

We shall meet but we shall miss him.

There will be one vacant chair.

We shall linger to caress him

While we breathe our ev’ning prayer.

“Over time, the pain and sense of loss brought by the Civil War would diminish as American society healed in the spirit of reconciliation and renewed national commitment to its founding principles. So too will Somerville return to the vibrant community we all cherish.

“As we move beyond our current challenges, may the new year bring peace and happiness to you and to all you hold dear, and may God bless Somerville as we continue to care for one another. Thank you.”

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