'Pike moves on Route 92 construction

Published in the Home News Tribune 12/30/04

Applications filed this week by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority regarding the construction of Route 92 are reapplications for environmental permits which had expired, officials said.

The applications, which were filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection, are for a stream encroachment permit and a freshwater individual permit. They request approval to cut or clear trees and other vegetation, increase pavements, construct one or more buildings/structures and expand existing pavement or buildings/structures.

These are just two of many, many permits for this project," said Turnpike Authority spokesman Joe Orlando. "Construction on the road is not going to begin next week."

The reapplications come several days before the end of the year and before the release of a much-awaited report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is mediating a disagreement between the DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding the 6.7-mile, east-west transportation link.

The corps supported the Route 92 plan in its draft environmental impact statement that was released in April, putting it at odds with the EPA, which rejected an earlier proposal on the basis that it could damage South Brunswick's wetlands.

Last May, the corps held a public hearing, which brought together state executives, officials from various municipalities and residents who voiced strong opinions about the proposed toll road. The project has been on the books for decades and has caused controversy and heated debates among its proponents and opponents.

Route 92 would serve as a limited-access highway linking Route 1 at Ridge Road in South Brunswick to the New Jersey Turnpike at Interchange 8A in Monroe. The project also requires the construction of bridges over Route 1, Ridge Road, the AMTRAK Northeast Corridor line, Devils Brook, Friendship Road, Miller Road, Route 130 and Cranbury-South River Road.

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese said he is not surprised by the Turnpike Authority's move to gain approval for the application and said he believes the request doesn't change the status of the project.

"I wish they had just not bothered to seek the permits, but this doesn't change any of the hopes and desires I have for Route 92," said Gambatese, who along with other South Brunswick officials adamantly opposes the project.

Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, who sits at the other end of the spectrum regarding the toll road, also said the authority's move to renew permits is hardly unexpected.

"The Turnpike has said all along that they were going to go forward and seek renewals on permits," Cantu said. "This is nothing new."

Plainsboro officials have supported Route 92, agreeing with findings that the route would be a solution to the traffic problems plaguing the area.

South Brunswick resident and member of the "No 92" coalition, Cathy Dowgin said she doesn't understand why the NJTA would reapply for the application without hearing from the corps.

"A couple of things have to happen before they can go ahead with reapplying for permits, including the Army Corps' final opinion," Dowgin said. "The turnpike is wasting money and the DEP's time to review this application."

Despite her belief that the project will not be completed, Dowgin knows the debate surrounding Route 92 is far from over.

"Until the statute for the route is removed from the books, this project is not dead," said Dowgin, who lives along the propsed route.

There has been no indication when Army Corps' report will be completed.

Peter Boger, spokesman for the DEP, said the department has 20 days to review the application before conducting a formal review process that could take months.

Dina Guirguis: (732) 565-7260; dguirguis@thnt.com