No movement on anti-92 bill

By: Matthew Kirdahy , Staff Writer     
South Brunswick Post, 05/06/2004

Assembly committee has no timetable for legislation

The Assembly Transportation Committee is not likely to hear a bill that could strip the N.J. Turnpike Authority of its authorization to build Route 92 until at least September.

Assemblyman Upendra Chivakula, a Democrat who represents Franklin and is a member of the Assembly committee that would review the legislation, said Wednesday that it is not likely that the bill could be placed on an agenda before the fall.

The bill was introduced in January by Assemblyman Bill Baroni, a Republican whose district includes South Brunswick. A Senate version was introduced by state Sen. Peter Inverso, a Republican who represents the same district.

The bill would remove the authority to build the proposed 6.7-mile toll road. The Legislature had transferred authority for the highway to the Turnpike in 1991.

Mr. Chivakula said Wednesday that the Assembly Transportation Committee would be involved with discussions of the proposed state budget for the next two months and the Legislature will be on recess in July and August.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, a Democrat who represents the northeastern portion of Middlesex County, said in February that he would not schedule a hearing on the proposed legislation until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its Environmental Impact Statement on the road. The Army Corps, which is reviewing the project because state and federal regulators could not agree on whether environmental permits should be issued, released a draft of its EIS on April 21.

Mr. Wisniewski did not return repeated phone calls or e-mail from the Post.

Mr. Baroni sent a letter to the committee chairman on April 26 asking that the bill be placed on an agenda.

"He said we should wait," Mr. Baroni said in an April 28 interview. "Well, it's out."

Mr. Baroni had not received a response as of Tuesday, according to a spokesman for the assemblyman.

Mr. Baroni said in an April 28 press release that he would bring district residents to testify that Route 92 is "the wrong road, in the wrong place, at the wrong time." Mr. Baroni said he reviewed the full DEIS and said that the destruction of wetlands, parklands and farmlands is enough proof that should clearly show Route 92 shouldn't be built.

Mr. Baroni said in the release that the promised traffic relief was not likely to follow.

"While supporters of Route 92 claim miraculous traffic reductions, the facts bear to significant failure for the people of Central New Jersey," Mr. Baroni said.

If Mr. Baroni's bill is approved by the Transportation Committee, it would then move to the full Assembly. If approved by the Assembly and the Senate version of the bill is also approved, they would go to the governor for his signature.

Steve Cook, Sen. Inverso's chief of staff, said the senator supports Mr. Baroni's legislation and will attend the public hearing with a more detailed opinion of the DEIS once he has completely reviewed it.

"We're still in the process of reviewing the EIS," Mr. Cook said. "The more time we take to review this the more impact our comments will have on the process."

Mr. Cook also said that the senator plans to meet with South Brunswick residents and officials in the interim to get feedback from the township. Sen. Inverso has been a strong supporter of a Bus Rapid Transit to alleviate traffic as an alternative to Route 92.

Assemblyman Chivakula, who is opposed to Route 92, said he would review Mr. Baroni's bill but is not taking a position on it. He said he has some concerns about the draft of the EIS and thinks the Army Corps should expand the study area to part of Somerset County to get a more accurate assessment of traffic.

Mr. Chivakula also said the study needs to address the impact of the wetlands in greater depth.

"Do we really have the infrastructure to handle this type of traffic?" Mr. Chivakula said. "I don't think we have it, but there is a need for an east-west connector. We all have traffic problems and is Route 92 is right way to go? I don't know. Unless they expand study area, then we have partial information."

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, a Democrat who represents South Brunswick, said Friday that she wanted to review the Army Corps study before making any comments.

"We haven't had updated information on this in such a long time, so it's important to take a look of what's here," Ms. Greenstein said. "It sounds like they are showing the benefits to the road."

Mr. Baroni, however, has made his mind up.

"After reading the Draft Environmental Impact Study, I am more convinced than ever that Route 92 is wrong for the people of South Brunswick and central New Jersey," Mr. Baroni said in his release. "I'm going to continue to fight every day to stop this environmental, transportation nightmare from being built."