Bill aims to remove authority for Route 92

By: Joseph Harvie, Staff Writer   
South Brunswick Post, 12/29/2005

Assemblyman Bill Baroni hopes new legislation will put an end to N.J. Turnpike Authority's plan to build Route 92.

Assemblyman Bill Baroni wants to strip the N.J. Turnpike Authority of its right to build Route 92.

The Republican said Tuesday that he plans to reintroduce legislation that would take away the agency's legal authority over the road, which would effectively kill the proposal.

The legislation would not have the support of the Assembly's other South Brunswick representative. Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, who like Mr. Baroni represents the 14th District, recently announced her opposition to the road. She said the Baroni bill could place the road back under the state Department of Transportation's authority, which could choose to build it.

The Turnpike has had responsibility for the road since 1991, when the Legislature asked it to review whether it was needed and to build it if it deemed it necessary. It approved construction of the 6.7-mile toll road in 1994.

The federal Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing environmental permits for the road, because state and federal regulators could not agree on whether they should be issue.

The Turnpike had set aside $181.5 million for design and construction, but moved $175 million from the Route 92 project to a proposed widening of the Turnpike from Exit 8A to Exit 6, where the Turnpike will connect with an extended Pennsylvania Turnpike. About $6.5 million is still set aside for Route 92.

Joe Orlando, spokesman for the Turnpike Authority, has said that the authority plans to build Route 92 if federal environmental permits are issued.

Mr. Baroni said that, although the road was "defunded," the money could be reinstated at any time.

"As much as we celebrated the money being removed from the road, the money can be put back in just as easily," Mr. Baroni said. "We need to remain dedicated to making sure this road does not get built."

That is why he is introducing legislation to take the highway away from the Turnpike.  He introduced similar legislation two years ago but it was never heard by the Assembly Transportation Committee. Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, a Democrat who represents the northeastern portion of Middlesex County,said in February 2004 that a hearing should not be scheduled until the Army Corps' environmental impact study was completed.

Mr. Baroni said he is not expecting quick movement on the legislation. But he is encouraging residents to lobby the Assembly.

"The mayor and folks in South Brunswick worked very hard to do all they could to stop Route 92," Mr. Baroni said. "Whether it is when they testified in front of Army Corps or organized a grassroots campaign like the No 92 folks have done, we have to continue to work together to prevent this road from happening."

Ms. Greenstein, however, does not see the legislation as the best way to stop the roadway. She said that the Turnpike Authority showed the highway was not a priority when it shifted funding.

"Even proponents of Route 92 agree that the widening is priority of greater importance than Route 92," Ms. Greenstein said.

She is concerned that taking the road away from the Turnpike could affect the Transportation Trust Fund, which is used by the state to repair older roads and bridges and build new ones. She said the DOT could opt to build the road, using trust fund money.

"If we fund the Transportation Trust Fund, the DOT can suddenly consider it a high priority and use that money for the road," Ms. Greenstein said. "It is going to be hard enough to get that funded. We don't want to see that emerge in the DOT."