No hearing for Route 92 bill
By: Sharlee Joy DiMenichi , Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 03/11/2004
Assembly transportation chairman plans to wait for release of
The Assembly Transportation Committee
will not hold hearings on a proposed bill that would strip the
N.J. Turnpike Authority of its authorization to build Route 92
until after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues an
environmental report on the project.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski
(D-Middlesex), who is chairman of the committee, said Wednesday
that it would be premature to review the bill given that the
federal government is reviewing the project.
The Army Corps has been reviewing the proposed 6.7-mile toll road
since 1999, after the federal Environmental Protection Agency and
the state Department of Environmental Protection disagreed on
whether environmental permits should be issued for the project.
Environmental permits are necessary because building the road
would require filling in wetlands.
The EPA refused to issue permits in 1998, saying there were less
environmentally invasive alternatives available. The DEP issued
permits in early 1999. A preliminary version of the EIS has been
distributed to the state Department of Transportation, the N.J.
Turnpike Authority and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission for
comments, but no timetable exists for issuing the final report.
Freshman Assemblyman Bill Baroni, a Republican who represents
South Brunswick, introduced legislation that would repeal the
section of a 1991 law that authorized the Turnpike Authority to
construct the four-lane Turnpike spur, which is slated to run
from Route 1 near Ridge Road to the Turnpike at Exit 8A. A
similar bill was introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Peter
Inverso, a Republican who also represents South Brunswick.
Mr. Wisniewski said he would not hold public hearings on the bill
until after the Environmental Impact Statement was released. He
said members of the public are legally entitled to comment on
environmental impact statements.
While he would not comment directly
during a telephone interview Wednesday, Mr. Wisniewski criticized
the bills in a letter to the South Brunswick Post.
He called Route 92 a "sorely needed
limited-access toll road" and said residents "fed up with rising
traffic congestion or who are in construction trades may be
saddened to learn" of the Baroni-Inverso legislation. He
also said that central New Jersey residents deserve to hear from
the Army Corps.
"The Route 92 project is still undergoing an exhaustive
environmental-impact study that had been ordered by the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers," he wrote. "Central Jersey residents are
still awaiting that final report."
He criticized Mr. Baroni for "grandstanding and publicity
seeking," while acknowledging that the assemblyman has been
consistent in his opposition to the road.
Sen. Inverso, however, is guilty of "blatant gamesmanship," Mr.
Wisniewski wrote, because the senator waited 13 years to oppose the
"If Sen. Inverso ever really wanted to oppose this project, he
should have introduced his bill during the 10 years when he and
his fellow Republicans had majority control at the State House,"
he wrote. "He could have fought the administration of former Gov.
Christie Todd Whitman when her hand-picked commissioner of
environmental protection gave his support for the roadway in
1999. Moreover, he never stood up to Gov. Whitman's former
transportation commissioner, Frank Wilson, who also endorsed the
Mr. Baroni said he did not need to
hear from the Army Corps to take a position on the road.
He said the EPA's response to the road in 1998 should provide
enough evidence that the highway would do environmental damage
and should not be built.
"I don't need to wait for the outcome
of the EIS. This is a bad road," Mr. Baroni said.
Mr. Baroni said that, even if Mr. Wisniewski does not want the
bills to become law, members of the public should have an
opportunity to comment on them.
"I am writing the chairman to
ask him to put the bill in front of his committee for discussion
so we can have a public hearing," Mr. Baroni said.
Steve Cook, Sen. Inverso's chief of staff, acknowledged Wednesday
that the senator previously supported Route 92. He has come to oppose
it because of its environmental impact. Mr. Cook said Sen. Inverso also found
the price tag too costly for the lean economic times the state is
"The better use of those funds is to
fix deteriorating roadways," Mr. Cook said.
Early price estimates pegged the cost at about $300 million.
Those estimates have grown to more than $400 million over the
last 10 years.