Corps' report boosts Route 92

Friday, April 23, 2004
Staff Writer
Trenton Times

The proposed, and much-disputed, Route 92 would decrease traffic on Route 1 and nearby roadways and pose minimal disruption to the environment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in a long-awaited draft report that left supporters enthused and critics unconvinced yesterday.

While saying the Army Corps' draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) needed to be scrutinized and public comment on it gathered, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell said the draft report showed traffic congestion needed to be alleviated.

"The DEIS makes a compelling case that there's a transportation problem that needs to be addressed," Campbell said.

The draft report, in the works for five years, did not include a recommendation on the $400 million road that would be built by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Still, the DEIS found building the 6.7-mile Route 92 from Route 1 at Ridge Road in South Brunswick to Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike in Monroe would "meet the objectives" of:

-- Providing a high-speed route for traffic moving between Route 1, Route 130 and the New Jersey Turnpike.

-- Providing an alternate north-south route for traffic using Route 1.

-- Reduce nonlocal truck traffic on local roads by shifting it to a connector highway.

"Without improvements such as Route 92, traffic growth would continue and the gap between the volume of traffic and the capacity to accommodate the traffic would become steadily larger," the DEIS stated. "The effect of the widening gap is to decrease the quality of life for existing residents as a result of significant congestion."

The DEIS said Route 92 would reduce rush-hour congestion on local and secondary east-west roads in northeastern Mercer County and southern Middlesex County by 18 percent by 2028 and "would generally reduce" rush-hour traffic along the most congested parts of Route 1.-- -- --

"It just confirms what we've been saying for a long time - that this road is needed," said Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, a longtime Route 92 supporter.

West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said he hadn't read the entire 800-page document but said it seemed to endorse the township's position that the highway would cut traffic in the Route 1 corridor.

"We are in support of (Route) 92," Hsueh said.

The Army Corps has scheduled a public hearing May 20 on the DEIS at the Radisson Hotel Princeton in South Brunswick, with sessions scheduled that day for 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight.

The Turnpike Authority on Wednesday evening said it is "extremely important the public process for comment on Route 92 run its course and we're looking forward to getting the public's input."

Comments taken during the hearing are to be considered when developing a final statement, which will be used to help determine whether to issue a federal permit to allow wetlands to be filled when building the highway.

About 14 acres of wetlands would be destroyed to build Route 92, but the Turnpike Authority proposes creating 57 acres of new wetlands while preserving 202 acres of forested wetlands.

The DEIS found the Turnpike Authority's proposed stormwater management controls would help maintain water quality while alternatives such as widening Route 1 would cause more wetlands destruction.

"It's clear that the proposed alignment is the alignment that provides the greatest possible benefit with the least amount of impact," Cantu said.

Route 92 has been proposed in various forms for about 30 years. The current plan calls for a four-lane highway with two lanes in each direction and interchanges at Perrine Road and Route 130.

In 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rejected the proposed project, but the state approved a permit to fill wetlands the next year and the project was sent to the Army Corps to help resolve the dispute.

The state permit expired last month but the Turnpike Authority has said it would reapply once it updates its plan to meet new stormwater management rules.

The draft report also found the roadway would fit within the state's development plans by removing regional traffic from local roads and promoting development only in areas zoned for commercial and industrial development.

Campbell said he would like to see details on how development around Route 92 would be controlled to ensure the highway doesn't re-create congestion. The Turnpike Authority, he said, could, for instance, buy land around the highway and preserve it to control development.

"I think it's time that a decision was made and the transportation problem is addressed and addressed in as comprehensive a way as possible," Campbell said.

Route 92 opponents contend the highway would destroy rural open space and farmland, damage the environment and historic communities such as Kingston and increase Route 1 congestion.

"This is a very damaging road and it's basically up to Governor McGreevey to put an end to it," said Tyler Burke, spokesman for the transportation watchdog Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which opposes Route 92.

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese on Wednesday evening described the DEIS as "lukewarm at best" and said he held hope that approvals to build the highway won't be given.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said the group continues to oppose Route 92, instead supporting making Route 522 a limited-access roadway connecting Route 1 and the Turnpike.

"I still think that's the best alternative," Tittel said.

He said Route 92 would waste precious transportation money and the draft report seemingly didn't take into account the affects of development that would occur around Route 92.

"No matter how you look at it, Route 92 is a sprawl-inducing highway that opens a large part of central New Jersey to large-scale development," Tittel said.

Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Hamilton, has been a vocal opponent of Route 92 since taking office in January. Yesterday, he said he was unconvinced by the report's findings.

"Still, it's the wrong road at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Baroni, who has called for improving Route 1 instead.

In addition to the federal and state permits needed to fill wetlands, the Turnpike Authority also needs approvals from the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission and the Freehold Soil Conservation District to build the highway.