EPA far from satisfied with review of Route 92

By: David Campbell , Staff Writer    
Princeton Packet, 07/23/2004

Report says "all reasonable alternatives have not been fully evaluated."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has weighed in on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' draft environmental review of the controversial and long-delayed Route 92, saying that "all reasonable alternatives have not been fully evaluated."

The EPA letter, submitted as part of the public comment on the draft study, went on to say there is a potential for "significant environmental impacts" should the roadway being proposed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority be built.

Route 92 has been proposed by the Turnpike Authority as an east-west connector between turnpike Interchange 8A and Route 1 near Ridge Road in South Brunswick. The 6.7-mile limited-access toll road would be built and managed by the Turnpike Authority, and would cost an estimated $400 million to build.

According to the EPA letter, addressed to Richard Tomer, who heads the Army Corps' regulatory branch in New York, "Alternatives that are viable have been dismissed and other reasonable combinations of alternatives, that would meet the project's purpose and need with fewer environmental impacts, have not been analyzed."

The EPA favors a closer look at the "modified no-build alternative," which would include construction of an interchange between Route 32 and Route 130 and other intersection upgrades.

This alternative "would avoid the loss of the majority and most valuable of the wetlands within the proposed project corridor," and also result in traffic-congestion relief, the July 12 letter said.

The EPA letter also cited what it said was an incomplete and flawed traffic analysis in the Army Corps' draft environmental impact statement, notably with regard to new traffic Route 92 would create.

"Additional traffic volumes induced through excess road capacity has the potential to provide greater impacts than what is currently described in the draft EIS," the letter said. The new roadway would provide "strong incentive" for vehicle trips through the region that otherwise would not occur, the letter claimed.

Mr. Tomer said Thursday the Army Corps welcomed the EPA's comments.

"It's something we will certainly be using in crafting the final EIS for the project, and we'll have to address the issues they raised in the process of doing that," he said. He said a number of issues raised in the letter are not new, adding, "so I'm not sure there's any surprise from our perspective."

Mr. Tomer said it would be at least six months before a final EIS is issued.

The Army Corps released the draft document to the public in April. A public hearing on the document was held in May at the Radisson Hotel Princeton in South Brunswick. At those sessions, opponents of the road vastly outnumbered those who spoke in favor of it. The majority of the attendees were South Brunswick residents worried about traffic impacts to their community.

The Army Corps has been working on an EIS for the roadway since 2000 because federal and state environmental agencies disagreed over whether to issue permits for the filling of wetlands required by the project.

Conflict initially arose in 1999 after the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit contrary to recommendations from the EPA. Review by the Army Corps was undertaken to help resolve the matter. The DEP's wetland permit expired in March.

At the Princeton Environmental Commission meeting on Wednesday night, Princeton resident Lincoln Hollister, speaking on behalf of Sensible Transportation Options Partnership, called the EPA letter "right on."

Mr. Hollister called for a community roundtable like one used to resolve controversy surrounding the former Millstone Bypass, "so that traffic problems can be addressed by people who know the area."