A longer Rt. 92 on the horizon?

By Steve Bass
Staff Writer
Central Post, March 11, 1999

Current plans for proposed Route 92 call for a 6.7 mile limited access toll highway that would link the New Jersey Turnpike at exit 8A with Route 1 near Ridge Road.

But both proponents and opponents of the road say that this 6.7-mile stretch may well pave the way for a longer highway, traveling through Kingston to Route 27 and, possibly, as far as Route 206 in Somerset or Mercer County.

And that, environmentalists fear, would multiply the destruction of sensitive lands and open space in the region. Supporters, however, say it would create another much-needed east-west alternative to local roadways.

The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group opposed to the project, said that if Route 92 is built traffic dumping onto Route 1 from the highway could force road planners to extend it farther west.

An extension of that sort would be supported by MSM Regional Council [now the Regional Planning Partnership, or RPP. -ed.], a planning group, because it provides an alternative to local roads. MSM has been advocating the extension since the N.J. Turnpike Authority approved the road in 1994.

NJ Turnpike officials say they have no plans to extend the proposed highway, though construction of the road does not rule out the possibility of extending Route 92 to Route 27.

Route 92 is under review by the federal Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps was given jurisdiction for the review following a September decision by the federal Environmental Protection Agency not to issue wetlands permits.

The state has been considering various alignments for the road for more than 50 years. Until the late 1980s, plans called for the highway to extend to Route 206. The Route 27 to Route 206 link was dropped by the state Department of Transportation in the early 1990s, because of disagreements between Princeton Township and Montgomery over the alignment and concerns about wetlands in Franklin.

In 1991, the state Legislature transferred jurisdiction for the road to the Turnpike Authority. The Authority conducted environmental and traffic studies and determined that the Route 1 to Turnpike link should be built; the Route 1 to Route 27 link was dropped because of environmental concerns.

Turnpike Executive Director Edward Gross said Wednesday the Turnpike is only concerned with the 6.7-mile road being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers. However, he said "the present alignment for Route 92 doesn't foreclose extending it to Route 27."

Mr. Gross said the Turnpike had considered a road extending to Route 27 early in the planning process when the state Legislature transferred jurisdiction. Traffic and environmental studies indicated that extending Route 92 to Route 27 would offer no additional benefits, said Mr. Gross.

Jeff Tittle, of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club said the amount of extra traffic that would result from the construction of Route 92 may cause a need for it to be extended to Route 27 or farther west.

Montgomery Township Administrator Donato Nieman - the former township administrator in South Brunswick - also said additional traffic created by Route 92 could lead to another proposed connector road. However, Montgomery is most concerned that the construction of Route 92 will increase traffic on Route 206, a two-lane highway in Montgomery and the main traffic conduit for the community. Montgomery has been taking steps to keep Route 206 from being widened and has been working to reduce the amount of truck traffic that travels along the route.

Traffic reports conducted by the Kingston Initiative, an advisory task force in the village, show increased traffic in the village of Kingston and generally west of the Route 1 terminus if Route 92 is built.

Kingston would become "a gateway for traffic" generated by Route 92 and heading to and from the west and nearby towns, according to a Sept. 8, 1998 report from the Kingston Initiative.

In addition, the report and an analysis conducted by South Brunswick questions why the impact of Route 92 west of Route 1 was not addressed in traffic studies.

But Mr. Gross said that if a connector road is built from a completed Route 92 to Route 27, it will not be because of an increase in traffic. The road the Turnpike is proposing will have a neutral impact on traffic conditions at Route 92's terminus at Route 1, he said.

Dianne R. Brake, president of MSM, said her organization plans to lobby to have the highway extended once it is built. She says putting the highway in place is an important first step.

"Will the turnpike build Route 92 over to 206? Absolutely not," said Ms. Brake. She believes that another entity, such as the state DOT or county governments, would most likely build the extension. She said that the idea to build a connection to Route 206 exists, but it won't be addressed unless Route 92 is approved.

Ms. Brake said that roads such as Route 92 and any extension that might be built take a burden off local streets.

"If Route 92 goes where people want to go, then a lot more people are going to use it," said Ms. Brake. This will benefit residents, she said.

MSM tried to broker a deal in 1991 between towns in the region that would have allowed Route 92 to be extended to Route 27, said Ms. Brake. However, the plan never came to fruition, she said. It would have been difficult for local politicians to endorse an extension to Route 92 that was contingent on the approval and construction of Route 92 itself, she said.

MSM will begin working with municipalities to try once again to work out an arrangement that would make an extension to Route 206 possible, if it is built, she said.

"We'll get back into gear and get together with towns to see if conditions still exist to build the connector road to continue this project over to Route 206," she said.

Mr. Tittle said that the approach is similar to that used in other large highwy projects. Highways are often proposed and built in short segments to mask the environmental impact of the entire project, he said. Mr. Tittle said routes 29 and 287 both were built in short intervals and extended over time.

"Basically, what they do is piece-meal a highway," said Mr. Tittle.

"It's kind of the way of getting around a complete environmental review."

When a group proposes a road that's only six miles long, the impact looks minimal, said Mr. Tittle. Then the group comes back after the initial project is completed and proposes another short road, he said.

"It's much easier to get a little permit to build a road than it is to get a big permit," said Mr. Tittle.