Critics warned of worsened congestion and a destroyed environment while supporters predicted improved transportation and enhanced economic development as the Army Corps of Engineers yesterday convened a public hearing on the long-proposed, much-disputed Route 92.
As eight hours of testimony began, more than 100 people jammed a Radisson Hotel Princeton ballroom on Route 1 in South Brunswick for the long-awaited hearing on the draft environmental impact statement for Route 92, which would be built and maintained by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
As has been the case for years, opponents and supporters of the
6.7-mile highway - running from Route 1 in South Brunswick to the New
Jersey Turnpike Exit 8A in Monroe - clashed on whether the highway
would prove beneficial.
Both sides pleaded with Army Corps officials to either kill or approve the plan.
"There is huge environmental disruption at a cost of nearly a half-billion dollars with very little transportation benefit," said Michael Gerrard, an attorney representing South Brunswick, which opposes the $400 million highway.
But George Ververides, Middlesex County planning director, said booming warehouse development around Exit 8A means increased traffic in the coming years as goods are transported from those facilities.
"Good east-west movement through this region is paramount," Ververides said.
The draft statement, released last month after being in the works for almost five years, didn't include a recommendation on the roadway, but stated it would help decrease traffic on Route 1 and local roads in Mercer and Middlesex counties and pose minimal disruption to the environment.
In 1998, the federal Environmental Protection Agency rejected Route 92, but the state approved the permits the next year and the project was sent to the Army Corps. A state permit was issued in 1999 to allow about 14 acres of wetlands to be filled to build the highway, although the permit expired in March. The Turnpike Authority has said it will reapply for the permit.
The DEIS found Route 92 would help provide a high-speed route for traffic moving between Route 1, Route 130 and the Turnpike, offer an alternate north-south route for traffic using Route 1 and reduce truck traffic on local roads.
Route 92 is supported by Plainsboro, West Windsor and the Princetons, but opposed by South Brunswick, Montgomery, Rocky Hill, the Hopewells and groups such as the Sierra Club and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Yesterday's hearing was held to gather comments that will help develop a final statement, which will be used to decide whether federal approvals will be given for the highway. After outlining the hearing procedure, Army Corps officials otherwise sat quietly and listened to a parade of speakers, more of whom criticized Route 92 during early testimony.
Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Hamilton, a vocal Route 92 foe, noted the DEIS found Route 92, if constructed, wouldn't improve congested intersections in the area.
"I am not an engineer," Baroni said. "I am a lawyer, but even I can figure out that is not success."
South Brunswick Deputy Mayor Carol Barrett presented the Army Corps with what she said were 500 letters from township senior citizens decrying the highway for many reasons, including that it would "destroy one of the most beautiful natural areas in our township."
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said the highway would mean increased traffic, destroyed wetlands and threatened species. The Sierra Club supports improving Route 1 and 522 instead.
"We just find, in general, many deficiencies," he said.
Ann Zeman of Kingston predicted Route 92 would overrun the historic community with traffic and pollution and endanger pedestrians. She criticized the DEIS for failing to study how the highway would affect the village.
"There is virtually nothing in this report about Kingston," Zeman said.
Cathy Dowgin of Friendship Road in South Brunswick said improving Route 522 is a better alternative and alleged the DEIS was founded on outdated traffic data.
"Route 92 is not needed, will cost half-a-billion dollars and devastate many communities and the environment," she said.
Yet Edward Cohen, transportation coordinator for Monroe, said the Exit 8A neighborhood had 41 million square feet of industrial development at the end of 2003, a number he said would double by 2015.
"It is more than obvious something needs to be done," Cohen said, supporting Route 92 as a solution to upcoming traffic woes.
While oral testimony was heard only yesterday, written comments can be submitted until 5 p.m. on June 14 by sending them to New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, ATTN: Route 92 DEIS, 26 Federal Plaza, Room 1937, New York, NY 10278-0090.
Comments also can be e-mailed to Nan.Route92EIS@usace.army.mil
E-mailed comments should include the sender's name and address.
The Army Corps has emphasized written information will be considered as equally as oral testimony.