A wider Turnpike

By: Joseph Harvie, Staff Writer    
South Brunswick Post, 12/02/2004

Governor unveils expansion plan.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey unveiled a plan Wednesday to widen the 20.1-mile stretch of the N.J. Turnpike between Exit 8A and Exit 6 where the Turnpike meets with Route 276 and to extend the car-only and car/truck lanes along that same stretch.

The plan has local officials and activist groups hoping that the funds for Route 92 could be used to get the expansion project off the ground, killing Route 92.

Gov. Codey directed the Turnpike Authority to immediately begin engineering and design work for the expansion of what he called one of the most congested and busiest sections of the Turnpike.

According to the press release, the Turnpike Authority's consulting firm, Wilbur Smith Associates, has determined that "the area near Exit 8 has experienced failure traffic conditions during morning and evening rush hours."

The governor said he hopes to have the project completed by 2011 when the Pennsylvania Turnpike is expected to complete an interchange with the N.J. Turnpike.

"If we don't act, over the next several years traffic growth in New Jersey, combined with a planned project in Pennsylvania to add full-access interchange between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New Jersey Turnpike, will cause virtual gridlock," Gov. Codey said.

According to the press release, the expansion could take seven to 10 years to complete. In addition, the first step of the project would require an 18-month study to determine a timeline for the project, according to the release.

According to a state transportation official, the Turnpike Authority would pay for the study, which would cost between $8 million and $10 million.

The transportation official said the projected cost of the road would not be known until the study is complete.

Several other officials at various levels of government, including South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese and Assemblyman Bill Baroni, a Republican who represents South Brunswick, said the cost of the road-widening project could be about $1.2 billion.

The project could not be approved until the next Turnpike Authority Board meeting, which the transportation official said could happen before the end of the month.

Once the project is approved, a consultant would be hired in February or March to begin the study, according to the transportation official.

The transportation official said the widening of the road would have no bearing on the Turnpike Authority's plan to build Route 92, a 6.7-mile toll road that would connect the N.J. Turnpike with Route 1 at Ridge Road.

In an interview with WNBC New York on Nov. 21, Gov. Codey said "there are some other projects that I think are more important than Route 92." He said the Route 92 project could be stalled by lawsuits and said he wanted to get other projects in the state moving.

Mayor Gambatese applauded the governor for his actions on Wednesday and said he hopes the widening of the Turnpike will eliminate Route 92 once and for all.

"We are very optimistic that if nothing else this expansion or plan by the governor, which I applaud, will have a silver lining regarding Route 92 in South Brunswick," Mayor Gambatese said. "With a cost of $1.2 billion they can utilize some of the money set aside for Route 92 for the Turnpike expansion."

Mr. Baroni said he was disappointed to hear that Gov. Codey would not commit to transfer funding for Route 92 to the widening project.

"He said that (Route 92) won't be taken off the table completely, but we want to look to push it off the table for good," Mr. Baroni said.

Mr. Baroni said the Turnpike Authority has about $270 million set aside for Route 92. He said that money could help expedite the turnpike expansion project, help get trucks off Route 1 and take Route 92 off the table. Mr. Baroni said Route 92 is a bad idea that should never be constructed.

Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said Tuesday evening that the Sierra Club would not support the widening unless the money for Route 92 was used. Without that, he said, the Turnpike would not have enough money for the project. He also said there are concerns about the negative environmental impact Route 92 would have on central New Jersey and the sprawling development the road could spur.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a group that supports transportation alternatives and believes transportation money should go to fixing existing roads and not to new roadways, is urging citizens to approach the widening proposal with caution.

In a press release, the group said it does believe that the congestion is a problem near Exits 8 and 8A. They said the Turnpike is expected to see an increase in truck traffic over the next two decades and said the Turnpike Authority needs to make its case the expansion is needed for the entire length of the highway.

The Tri-State Transportation campaign also said the turnpike should abandon Route 92 plan and use the money escrowed for the project to address other problems.

South Brunswick is opposed to the proposed roadway. Opponents say the road would dump traffic from the turnpike onto the already congested area of Route 1 in South Brunswick where the highway is a four-lane road, with two lanes traveling in each direction.

Recently Princeton Township and Princeton Borough have both become interested in forming a roundtable discussion with other towns that would be affected by Route 92. Both the borough and township were strong supporters of the roadway until the Princeton Environmental Commission, which serves both municipalities, urged the governing bodies to reconsider their support.

The Army Corps has been working on an environmental impact statement for the roadway since 2000 because federal and state environmental agencies disagreed over whether to issue permits for the filling of wetlands required by the project. Conflict arose in 1999 after the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit contrary to recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.