EIS supports Rt. 1 widening

By: Joseph Harvie, Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 10/19/2006

Procedure would ease traffic problems, officials say

A federal environmental report on Route 92 might not make a recommendation on the proposed toll road, but it does support the township's argument that Route 1 needs to be widened.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for Route 92, issued Oct. 5 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, reviewed several options, including construction of Route 92, widening or expanding local roads, widening Route 1, or doing nothing. The report did not make a recommendation on whether Route 92 should be issued federal environmental permits. Army Corps officials say a recommendation will not be made until after the public comment period closes Nov. 14 and comments can be evaluated, probably sometime in 2007.

However, the report does say that widening Route 1 and removing traffic signals would improve east-west traffic in the region and "reinforce its character as a regional business-oriented highway."

"This is exactly what we've been saying for four to five years," Mayor Frank Gambatese said. "Before we talk about Route 92, we need to widen this 6.7-mile stretch of roadway on Route 1. The interchanges need to be fixed, the lights have to be looked at, and some need to be re-timed and removed. But certainly this road needs to be widened."

The township is currently working with the state Department of Transportation to have the road widened, helping to secure $7 million in federal transportation money for the state to allow the DOT to study the project. DOT officials met two weeks ago with representatives from South Brunswick, West Windsor, Plainsboro and North Brunswick about the study. NJ Future, a statewide policy and research group, has been commissioned by the state to conduct an economic improvement study.

The Army Corps report, however, already addresses some of the questions that are to be asked by the state studies. The EIS looked at two Route 1 options: widening the 6.7-mile stretch in South Brunswick from two lanes to three lanes in each direction and widening it while also removing traffic signals and building overpasses.

It says that if Route 1 were widened and the traffic signals removed, east-west traffic on local roads would be decreased by 10 percent. In addition, during peak-hour travel, traffic on local roads would be reduced "moderately." In addition, the widening would have "significant reductions" on peak hour Route 27 traffic, according to the report.

However, the report states that because the widening would reduce traffic, it also would entice people to use the road, increasing traffic on Route 1, leaving it congested during peak hours. The report states most of that traffic would come from Route 130 and the New Jersey Turnpike, leaving those roads at "spare capacity."

The widening of Route 1 would also improve traffic between Plainsboro and Turnpike Exit 8A by 10 to 15 percent, according to the report.

According to the report, widening Route 1 would affect 4 acres of wetlands, have an impact on three residential and three commercial buildings, but have no impact on preserved farmland or parkland. If Route 1 was widened and traffic signals were removed it would have an impact on 7.7 acres of wetlands, eight residential and eight commercial buildings, the report says.

Both widening projects would "slightly" facilitate sprawl development and partially meet the purpose of Route 92, the report says.

Route 1 widening also would mean a loss of about 2 acres of vegetated habitat, 10.7 acres if traffic signals are removed and overpasses built, the report says.

The widening itself would have little impact on farmland, but removal of traffic signals and construction of overpasses would mean a loss of several acres assessed as farmland, but not preserved, near the highway's intersections with Route 522, New Road and Beekman Road, the report says.

Although Route 1 may be eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, there are no structures of historic value within the footprint of a wider Route 1 with or without the construction of overpasses, according to the report.

However, according to the report, there are five small areas near Route 1 that have a "moderate to high probability for the presence of prehistoric and historic archaeological resources." The report states that there should be an anthropological and archaeological assessment of the sites where overpasses would be constructed.

The historic sites include the southern end of the potential Beekman Road interchange, the eastern section of the New Road interchange and the east, west and south sections of the potential Route 522/PromenadeBoulevard interchange, according to the report. The report states that there were structures that date back before the Civil War on those sites, and artifacts could be found there.

The report designated Route 92 as the only traffic improvement that would meet the scope and purpose of the project — reducing east-west traffic between Route 1 and the turnpike. It also said that if Route 92 were built it would affect 12 acres of wetlands, have an impact on 14 acres of the Plainsboro Preserve, affect four residential and one commercial building and slightly facilitate sprawl at the Perrine Road interchange, according to the report.

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