WEST ORANGE, NJ — Township and Essex County officials gathered at the corner of Alisa Drive and Pleasant Valley Way on Sept. 4 to cut the ribbon and flip the switch to turn on the traffic light recently installed at the intersection, improving pedestrian and vehicle safety on both roads. Located on the street that borders Degnan Park and the West Orange High School athletic facilities, the traffic light allows drivers to make a left turn off Alisa Drive onto Pleasant Valley Way.
The project cost $319,805 to complete, according to an Essex County press release on Sept. 4. Because Pleasant Valley Way is a county road, the county, West Orange Township Council and West Orange Board of Education split the cost of installing the traffic improvements. The equipment is outfitted with energy efficient LED lights, which shine brighter than regular lights, and are easier to see. In addition to the traffic light, the intersection was repaved, pedestrian signals with countdown timers were added, and curbs and sidewalks were repaired. Traffic signals will be coordinated with other intersections on Pleasant Valley Way by using GPS clocks, which use satellite signals to maintain the correct time and remain in sync with the street’s other lights.
“We are always ready to team up with our municipal and school district partners to implement traffic improvements that enhance safety for our children,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said in the press release. “Pleasant Valley Way is a major artery through West Orange, and the traffic signal being installed will make turning in and out of Alisa Drive easier and safer for students to drive to the high school.”
At the ceremony, DiVincenzo stressed the importance of the teamwork between the three bodies that made installing the traffic light a reality.
“We split it three ways, and that’s true partnership,” he said. “Now we’re moving on to make other safety improvements and keep these streets safe for everyone.”
One of the largest groups to benefit from the Alisa Drive light is the WOHS student body. A student parking lot is on the street, as well as the school’s soccer field and other athletic facilities. Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky and Principal Hayden Moore were at the ceremony to thank the council, BOE and county representatives for their work on the project.
“We’ve been looking for this for many years,” Rutzky said at the event. “This was an unsafe area, especially with students parking here and people coming here for athletic events. We appreciate the many efforts made to keep them safe.”
“In West Orange, we are big on traffic safety and the signalization of this intersection will help keep it safe for our students,” Moore said in the press release.
The Nikhil Badlani Foundation, named for the 11-year-old killed in 2011 when a driver ran a stop sign, hitting his family’s car, is also pleased with the installation.
“Motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of death among teenagers. This traffic signal makes the intersection that much safer,” West Orange resident Sangeeta Badlani, Nikhil’s mother, said.
The Nikhil Badlani Foundation will host its annual Stop for Nikhil 5K Run/Walk at West Orange High School on Sunday, Sept. 16, with registration beginning at 7 a.m. For more information, visit www.nikhilbadlanifoundation.org.
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders President Brendan Gill was also at the ceremony, and said that traffic-safety improvements should not be special occurrences.
“Thank you for everything you have done on this,” Gill said at the event to town and county officials. “It improves the safety of hundreds if not thousands of young people and adults. This type of action should be the standard and the norm, not the exception.”
Freeholder Patricia Sebold was well aware of how dangerous the intersection was without a traffic light, having taught English at WOHS for more than 30 years until retiring in 2001. After driving in and out of the parking lot twice a day, Sebold said the intersection has always been an issue.
“If anyone knows Pleasant Valley Way better than I do, I have to meet them,” Sebold joked at the ceremony. “I took this road every single morning and afternoon and this has always been a problem. It should have been done years ago, but I’m glad it’s finally happening now.”
West Orange Councilman Jerry Guarino said the lack of a traffic signal on Alisa Drive had been a problem for as long as he’s been on the council. Residents frequently complained about the issue and, as the council liaison to the West Orange Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board, he has been working with the county for several years to install a traffic light.
Roz Moskovitz Bielski, a West Orange resident and member of WOPSAB, also said the work to have the light installed was a test of patience for everyone involved.
“It’s validating to see that our efforts have come to fruition,” she said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “My daughter graduated from here in 2007, and I would forbid her to take a left turn out of here, so it makes it much safer. We also have five synagogues on Pleasant Valley Way, and this is a huge benefit to the Orthodox population in town.”
“The way the road is created, you can’t see both ways,” Guarino said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “We felt to get it done we had to work as a team, so resident and members of the board pulled together. This light will help people drive and cross safely. I’m proud of it and proud of all of the board members who got together and made it happen.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic and Essex County