Impact statement revives Rt. 92

Army Corps report excludes opinion on controversial connector

Trenton Times, Friday, October 06, 2006

It's baaaaack.

Almost a year after the New Jersey Turnpike Authority stripped 96 percent of the funding from the long-proposed Route 92 through southern Middlesex County so the money could be used for turnpike widening, Route 92 is again in the public spotlight.

Yesterday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for Route 92 has been completed and is available for pub lic comment through Nov. 14.

"It's back from the dead again," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club environmental organization. "It's the Dracula of highways that keeps coming back."

The FEIS does not include a recommendation on whether Route 92 should be built, the Corps said in a statement.

Outspoken opponents of Route 92, including Tittel and Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Hamilton, said yesterday the time has come for the proposed road to be mothballed for good.

"It's still the worst sprawl-in ducing highway in New Jersey, so why don't we just kill it?" Tittel said.

Others, like Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu and Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, D-Sayreville, counter that killing Route 92 once and for all is the wrong move.

"We're hopeful that with this final EIS ... that this roadway will move forward and think it should be moved forward," Cantu said, contending that the highway would relieve road congestion, improve east-west traffic flow and spur economic development.

Route 92 has been on the drawing board in various iterations at least since the 1950s, Tittel said.

The current proposal calls for it to be a 6.7-mile east-west toll link that would connect Route 1 in South Brunswick with the Turnpike's Exit 8A in Monroe through Middlesex County at a price tag that has been projected in the $400 million to $500 million range.

Turnpike Authority spokesman Joe Orlando stopped short of saying that the agency's move last November to shift $175 million from Route 92's
allocation to a turnpike widening project is the death knell for the
proposed highway.

"The Turnpike widening is our real priority now," Orlando said.

At the time that funding shift occurred, Baroni and other Route 92 critics hailed it as a major vic tory in ensuring that highway doesn't get built.

But Baroni cautioned yesterday against assuming that because there is little funding for the project now that it will not be bankrolled at some point in the future.

He said the way to make sure that Route 92 does not get built is through legislation.

He contends Route 92 would only add to congestion by attract ing more traffic to southern Middlesex and northern Mercer coun ties and destroy environmentally sensitive areas.

"It is a bad idea whose time should never come," Baroni said.

But a bill Baroni sponsored in the Assembly that aims to prevent Route 92 from being built isn't likely to be voted on anytime soon.

Wisniewski, the chairman of the Assembly Transportation Commit tee, where Baroni's bill is under review, said he doesn't see a need to schedule it for a hearing.

"To hold a hearing on a piece of legislation to stop something that's not happening (because of lack of funding) from happening seems to me to be frivolous," he said.

While Wisniewski said he isn't particularly in favor or against Route 92, he maintains that ruling out the possibility of its construction is premature.

"I take exception to public officials who say we shouldn't solve a problem, but then offer no alternatives, " he said.

Anyone who wants to read the FEIS on Route 92 can request a copy from the Army Corps of Engineers or review copies available at various public facilities, including the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offices in Trenton, the Plainsboro and South Brunswick public libraries and the Monroe municipal building.

Written comments on the FEIS must be received by 5 p.m. Nov. 14 and may be submitted to the Corps' New York district office with the application number 1999-00240-J1.

Comments may be submitted by fax to 212-264-4260, e-mail to Nan.Route92EIS@ mil or mail addressed to New York District,
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, Attn: NJTA Route 92 Application, Jacob K. Javitz Federal Building, Room 1937, New York, NY 10278-0090.

Contact Robert Stern at rstern@njtimes. com or (609) 989-5731.