Officials tout bus plan as alternative to highway

By: Matthew Kirdahy , Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 04/15/2004

Township officials see train-like bus rapid transit route as an alternative to Route 92.

Township officials say a proposal for a Bus Rapid Transit route along Route 1 could be a viable alternative to Route 92.

However, they said the BRT proposal wouldn't solve all traffic problems in the area and that the township needs to continue fighting Route 92, as well as looking for alternatives.

A BRT route uses train-like, rubber-tired vehicles on regular roads or dedicated busways. Often the vehicles get priority at traffic signals to improve travel time.

On Nov. 12, 2003, the NJ Transit board of directors agreed to hire a New York-based consulting company to conduct a study on the feasibility of a BRT route. The study is expected to take a year to complete. NJ Transit allocated $614,000 to fund the study, which is being conducted by STV Inc.

NJ Transit met with Sen. Peter Inverso, a Republican whose district includes South Brunswick, in March to discuss the study. Sen. Inverso said the BRT, should be followed by a plan to widen Route 1 in South Brunswick — to be paid for by Route 1 developers — and a review of the N.J. Turnpike Exit 8A area.

"This is an alternative," said Steve Cook, Sen. Inverso's chief of staff. "Hopefully, the BRT will diminish the need for Route 92 or at least scale it back."

In addition, Mayor Frank Gambatese said he is interested in a Bus Rapid Transit route. But, he said there's still work to be done to make sure Route 92, which has been on the drawing board for more than 30 years, doesn't get built.

Route 92 is a proposed limited-access toll road that would connect the N.J. Turnpike at Exit 8A with Route 1 at Ridge Road. South Brunswick officials and some residents are opposed to the road.

However, permits needed to build the 6.7-mile road expired March 29. According to Joseph Orlando, a N.J. Turnpike spokesman, said the Turnpike will apply for new permits. The state Department of Environmental Protection has said permits are needed because the proposed toll road would involve filling wetlands.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a review of the road because federal and state environmental agencies disagree over whether permits should be issued for the filling of wetlands. The Army Corps will continue its review despite the expired permits.

Mayor Gambatese said the BRT could work, but only if Route 1 is widened. He also said the township is willing to work with STV, the company performing the study.

"We're willing to talk to them and explore whatever we have to do to help make this thing go quicker," Mayor Gambatese said. "It's not the sole answer, not unless they widen Route 1. It's certainly the right idea, but it's not the only idea."

In a March 31 press release, Sen. Inverso said that any effort to relieve congestion on Route 1 must include a realistic plan to widen the section in South Brunswick.

"This section of road serves as a consistent bottleneck and will continue to hamper the smooth flow of traffic in this region, unless it is widened," Sen. Inverso said in the release.

As part of the study, which is being paid for by participating agencies, STV is reaching out to area businesses, local governments and community members for feedback and ideas.

At the conclusion of the study, a formal report will be produced and a public hearing held. The report would then be sent to the Federal Transit Administration for review under its New Starts project development program.

According to the press release, the study identified the reason for increased traffic over the last several years. He said that with over 12 million square feet of development approved along Route 1, growth of employee trips is expected to grow by 68 percent over the next 25 years, compared to only 12 percent growth in population in the region.

"I feel that the developers who create the need for infrastructure improvements should help finance these improvements," Sen. Inverso said in the release. "For example, along Route 1, Princeton Forrestal Center is minimally contributing to the improvements along the corridor, while placing over 2,600 peak hour trips on the highway."