Army Corps supports Turnpike access road

Opponents assail S. Brunswick plan
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Star-Ledger Staff

The Army Corps of Engineers released its long-awaited draft environmental study of Route 92 yesterday and found that the proposed connector road between the New Jersey Turnpike and Route 1 in South Brunswick is needed to meet the traffic demands in southern Middlesex County.

While the study made no recommendation on which route the road should take, it did say that the path proposed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, coupled with the actions the authority proposed to help minimize damage to the environment, had the least environmental impact.

The 6.7-mile limited-access toll road would begin at Interchange 8A of the Turnpike and extend west to Route 1 and Ridge Road in South Brunswick. It would travel through an area of wetlands, farms and warehouses, with at least one exit at Route 130.

The study's authors also found that construction of the highway would reduce traffic on local roads, but would take away 210 acres of farmland and interfere with access to another 78 acres.

Overall, the study found Route 92 was needed to meet the demands of the region that includes southern Middlesex County, northern Mercer County and part of western Somerset County. The study recommended the project be built in conjunction with the widening of Route 1 throughout the region to six lanes. It is currently has four lanes in South Brunswick.

In order to build the $300 million project, the Turnpike Authority needs permits to fill in more than 12 acres of freshwater wetlands in South Brunswick. It applied for those permits in 1998 but ran into a hailstorm of controversy.

The state granted the permits in 1999 over the objections of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, forcing the Army Corps to step in.

In 2000, the Army Corps ordered the Turnpike Authority to perform the environmental study.

But the study authors believe the Turnpike Authority's plans to create 57 acres of new wetlands north and south of the proposed highway alignment and to preserve 202 acres of existing forested wetlands and upland in the vicinity of Friendship and Miller roads would mitigate the loss of the 12.5 acres through construction.

Opponents, including residents and officials in South Brunswick, pledged yesterday to continue their fight against the project while supporters said the study contained nothing new.

"There is nothing too startling in it from what we can see," said Turnpike Authority spokesman Joseph Orlando, who said the authority received its copy of the 400-page study yesterday morning. "There is nothing in it that we can't accommodate."

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese said he thought the study "was kind of weak" and didn't take any real position, but he felt it gave opponents an opening to push their case at a public hearing on the document on May 20 at the Radisson Hotel Princeton on Route 1 south and Ridge Road in South Brunswick.

Steven Masticola, a South Brunswick resident and opponent of the project, called the study "a sickening greenwash from a corrupt road-building machine."

"Contrary to all common sense and scientific evidence, they're (the Army Corps) saying that throwing asphalt on traffic problems makes traffic go away," Masticola said. "I'd also like (Gov. James E.) McGreevey to explain what kind of leadership or environmentalism it is to let the Army Corps of Engineers tell him what to think."

But Diane Brake, executive director of Regional Planning Partnership of Middlesex-Somerset and Mercer counties, said the new road is needed to help meet the traffic needs brought on by runaway development -- commercial and residential -- over the past 20 years that has dumped a significant number of vehicles, including trucks, onto local roads.

"Of course it (Route 92) will take traffic off local roads because it will remove all those regional trips," Brake said. "Local people don't need the road. They'll have more room on their own roads when the trucks and people just driving through have a faster alternative."

The public hearing in May will have two sessions -- from 2 to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to midnight.

Sue Epstein covers Middlesex County. She can be reached at sep or (732) 404-8085.