EPA critical of Route 92 study
By:Matthew Kirdahy , Staff Writer
Princeton Packet, 07/22/2004
Federal regulators say DEIS incomplete
Federal regulators say a draft
environmental study on Route 92 being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers is incomplete and that the proposed highway may not comply
with Clean Water Act guidelines.
The Army Corps will not comment on the EPA's submittal while it is
under review, Koko Cronin, Army Corps spokeswoman, said.
The federal agency says the draft
Environmental Impact Statement, which was made public in April, has
insufficient information and that the study does not consider all
alternatives to the proposed east-west toll road.
Robert Hargrove, chief of the EPA's strategic planning and multimedia
programs branch, wrote in a July 13 letter to the Army Corps that the draft EIS dismisses "viable
alternatives" to Route 92 and does not fully evaluate all "reasonable
The Army Corps is reviewing the project because state and federal
environmental agencies disagree over whether permits should be issued
allowing the N.J. Turnpike Authority to fill wetlands to construct the
6.7-mile toll road. The EPA had denied permits in 1998 saying there
were less disruptive alternatives. The state Department of
Environmental Protection issued permits for the road in 1999.
The state permits expired March 29, but the N.J. Turnpike Authority has
said it would reapply for the permits but has not said when. The
Turnpike Authority says the four-lane highway, which would connect the
Turnpike at Exit 8A with Route 1 near Ridge Road, is needed to
alleviate traffic congestion on east-west roads.
The Army Corps unveiled its draft EIS to the public April 21. It held a
public hearing on the more than 1,200-page document May 20. Members of
the public and government agencies also had the opportunity to submit
written comment until June 14. Ms. Cronin said the Army Corps granted the EPA an extension,
because the federal organization is considered a cooperating agency. It
also granted an extension to the state DEP's Division of Fish and
Wildlife, which submitted its comments June 28.
The EPA submitted its comments July 13. In the letter, Mr. Hargrove
says the EPA is "concerned that the
draft EIS has not clearly demonstrated that there are no other
practicable alternatives that meet the basic project purpose that are
less environmentally damaging."
The letter says the draft EIS is
biased because it promotes a hierarchy of highways, with
regional highways carrying east-west traffic and local roads carrying
local traffic. The EPA takes issue in
the letter with the way need for the project has been framed.
According to the EPA, the project purpose identified in the EIS "verges on a description of the
applicant's preferred alternative, and potentially presupposes the alternatives analysis so
that only a regional limited access highway alternative could meet that
The EPA wrote that Transportation System Management and Transportation
Demand Management strategies should have been explored in conjunction
with capacity improvements. The EPA
said these strategies could prevent some of the environmental impacts
that accompany the construction of a four-lane highway, like water and
air pollution and the destruction of wetlands.
"Although the draft EIS states that such measures can be used in
conjunction with the alternatives presented to improve traffic
congestion, there is no indication
that such strategies have been incorporated and seriously considered
in the evaluation of each of the alternatives presented," Mr. Hargrove
Mr. Hargrove also writes that the "modified no-build alternative"
mentioned in the draft EIS would avoid the loss of the majority
wetlands and the most valuable wetlands within the proposed project
According to the EIS, building the road would mean filling 12.03 acres
of wetlands, while an additional 1.16 acres would be permanently
affected by shading from elevated sections of the road. To lessen the
wetlands impact, the Turnpike Authority plans to create 57 acres of new
wetlands, extending north and south of the proposed highway, east of
Haypress Road. The Turnpike Authority plans to also preserve 202 acres
of forest wetlands with some forest uplands in the vicinity of
Friendship and Miller roads.
The EPA also said it could not at this time assess whether the wetland
creation plan would be an adequate substitute for the proposed wetland
"We believe that the 'modified
no-build alternative' identified in the draft EIS or another
alternative may be practicable and may meet the basic project purpose
as identified by EPA as an east-west transportation corridor,"
Mr. Hargrove said. "Furthermore, we
are concerned that the least environmentally damaging practicable
alternative may not have been selected and therefore, we believe that
the project as proposed may not comply with the (Clean Water Act)
In an attachment to the letter, the
EPA addresses additional traffic concerns. It says Route 92 would
likely attract more traffic that would otherwise not pass through the
"The draft EIS contains information on how growth is accounted for in
the traffic modeling, however it is
unclear whether the traffic modeling includes an assessment of induced
growth and induced travel demand that would result from proposed Route
92," the EPA says.
The EPA also says that the EIS assumes that the population, traffic and
employment growth would take place by 2028. The EIS also doesn't include towns beyond
the eastern and western terminuses of Route 92 in Somerset County, west
of Route 27 and southeastern Middlesex County, east of Route 535 that
would be affected.
"It is likely that these travel
improvements could induce both committed and uncommitted growth to
occur more rapidly before 2028,"
the EPA says. "It is possible that these municipalities would
experience induced growth as a result of regional east-west mobility
and increased travel speed afforded by proposed Route 92. The
population and employment growth forecasts for these municipalities
should ideally be included among the core municipalities in the land
use database as well."