By Danielle Camilli - www.phillyburbs.com
DELRAN — Slow down. Get off the cellphones. Watch for pedestrians. Drive safely. Or face the penalties.
That’s the message New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa delivered Monday while standing near Route 130 as he announced a new enforcement campaign, Operation 130 Safe Passage, which aims to improve pedestrian safety on the state highway.
“The reports and statistics involving this stretch of highway are disturbing, and inaction is simply not an option,” Chiesa said at a news conference with New Jersey lawmakers and other state and county officials in a parking lot near the scene of the latest fatality on the deadly road.
“Working together, our commitment is to have drivers slow down and be more attentive, pedestrians cross the road with as much care as possible, and ultimately to prevent future tragedies along this important highway corridor,” he said.
Since 2009, 16 pedestrians have been killed on Burlington County’s 23 mile stretch of Route 130, earning the highway the ranking as New Jersey’s most dangerous road for pedestrians each of the last five years by the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The road claimed its most recent pedestrian victim in March, when Christal M. Smith, 20, of Delran, was struck by a pickup truck while crossing near Hartford Road. After Smith’s death, nearby residents started a petition for a pedestrian bridge over Route 130. It has 1,600 online signatures.
In addition to the fatalities, more than 40 pedestrians were involved in motor vehicle crashes from 2007 and 2011, according to state Department of Transportation officials.
Officials have wasted no time in trying to put the brakes on the problems on Route 130. High-visibility police details were set to begin Monday night, said Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield, who applied for grants for the extra enforcement.
Chiesa announced that the 18-month, $225,000 project will be funded by the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety. He said the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department and the 12 municipalities in the Route 130 corridor have signed shared-services agreements that will allow them to enforce laws in cross jurisdictions through the campaign.
Route 130 runs through Bordentown Township, Bordentown City, Mansfield, Florence, Burlington Township, Burlington City, Edgewater Park, Willingboro, Delanco, Delran and Cinnaminson in Burlington County.
Stanfield said as her officers were out on the road for several weeks preparing for the crackdown, they quickly identified trouble spots.
In Burlington City, where the speed limit drops to 25 mph during peak hours for school drop-offs and pickups, “not one car was in compliance. … In fact, the closest one car came was 32 miles per hour,” she said.
In Delran, within one hour during the morning rush, vehicles were going well beyond the posted speed limit.
“We saw 166 vehicles were going in excess of 60 miles, and many were going in excess of 70 miles,” Stanfield said, while also noting that more than 50 drivers were on their cellphones during that same one hour of monitoring.
She called Operation 130 Safe Passage “an amazing opportunity to change driving and pedestrian behavior on Route 130.”
With the funding, 14,500 hours of patrol time will be dedicated solely to traffic enforcement along the corridor over the next 18 months.
Chiesa said police will target speeding, distracted and aggressive drivers, and motorists who do not stop for pedestrians in intersections. Drivers ticketed for not stopping for pedestrians face a $200 fine, two points on their license, and court costs, he said.
That money, like all tickets, will go back to the municipality where the offense was committed.
Chiesa urged pedestrians to use caution and be alert when crossing the divided highway, calling improving safety a “shared responsibility” of drivers and walkers.
Historically, New Jersey sees pedestrian-related motor vehicle deaths at a rate of 25 to 30 percent annually of all motor vehicle deaths, but so far in 2013, the figure is at 35 percent, about twice the national average, according to Gary Poedubicky, acting director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
Poedubicky called it “unacceptable,” and said operations like the one on Route 130 can help reduce the numbers.
Operation 130 Safe Passage will allow law enforcement to conduct patrols during rush-hour travel times, and rotate throughout the towns along the corridor.
“We know that the most effective enforcement is done during high-volume, high-visibility times, like rush hours. This targeted enforcement effort lets motorists know that there is a police presence on the road and that consistent presence is what changes motoring behavior,” Poedubicky said.
State Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, said she and fellow lawmakers are working in Trenton to help make Route 130 safer, including legislation that calls for all crosswalks in the state to be identical so they are more easily recognizable and special traffic lights that would better draw drivers’ attention at crosswalks.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, said the state needs to take a three-pronged approach to improving the highway. He said officials have to get “aggressive to try to curb the aggressive behavior on our roadways.”
Enforcement is the first line of attack, but education and infrastructure improvements are also key, Singleton said.
“We also want to look at better engineering of our roadways. Route 130 is a great roadway that has now become a means of commerce up and down the corridor in our state, and the landscape around Route 130 has changed so much, so we have to do a great job making sure that we have engineered our roadways correctly,” he said.
Joseph Donnelly, director of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders, said at the news conference that he has reached out to the 12 towns in the corridor to find support to apply for grant money to study the highway and find solutions.
“There are real dollars available to do this,” Donnelly said, noting that the study will give the county leverage to lobby for improvements.