Environmental panel splits with Princeton elected officials over Route 92

By: David Campbell , Staff Writer     

Princeton Packet, 09/24/2004

The Princeton Environmental Commission would like Princeton Borough and Princeton Township to reconsider their endorsement of long-delayed Route 92.

At the commission's meeting Wednesday night, members met with Ridgeview Road resident Lincoln Hollister, a local opponent of the controversial project, to discuss the federal Environmental Protection Agency's opposition to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's proposed limited-access toll road.

The EPA, in a letter submitted in July as part of the public comment on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' draft environmental review of Route 92, has said that "all reasonable alternatives have not been fully evaluated." The EPA letter went on to say there is a potential for "significant environmental impacts" from the road.

Route 92 has been proposed by the Turnpike Authority as an east-west connector between turnpike Interchange 8A and Route 1 near Ridge Road in South Brunswick. The 6.7-mile toll road would be built and managed by the Turnpike Authority, and would cost an estimated $400 million.

The federal environmental agency said the traffic analysis in the Army Corps' draft environmental impact statement was flawed and incomplete, suggesting that, contrary to the corps' conclusions, proposed Route 92 would result in increased traffic congestion.

The Army Corps released its draft document to the public in April. A public hearing on the document was held in May at the Radisson Hotel Princeton in South Brunswick. At those sessions, opponents of the road vastly outnumbered those who spoke in favor of it. The majority of the attendees were South Brunswick residents worried about traffic impacts to their community.

The governing bodies of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough have endorsed the Army Corps' conclusions in support of Route 92.

On Wednesday night, the Environmental Commission said the Borough Council and Township Committee should reconsider their position in light of the EPA's stance against the roadway.

Wendy Benchley, the Borough Council's liaison to the commission, said an Environmental Commission representative should appear before the council to make its case.

But Township Deputy Mayor William Enslin, the committee's liaison to the Environmental Commission, said the timing may not be right, pointing out that such a plea might be drowned out by other immediate issues before the council and committee.

Environmental commission members also called for a community roundtable like one used to resolve the controversy surrounding the former Millstone Bypass.

They raised the idea of appealing to outgoing Gov. James E. McGreevey, who has said he will resign in November due to a sex scandal, to stop the road or mandate a roundtable for Route 92. Former Gov. Christie Whitman called for a bypass roundtable in 2000 before she left office to head up the EPA.

Environmental commission members said the new Route 522, if a connection to the turnpike were to be built, could serve as an alternative to Route 92, and should be considered.

The Army Corps has been working on an EIS for the roadway since 2000 because federal and state environmental agencies disagreed over whether to issue permits for the filling of wetlands required by the project. Conflict arose in 1999 after the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit contrary to recommendations from the EPA.

Review by the Army Corps was undertaken to help resolve the matter. The DEP's wetland permit expired in March.

In other business Wednesday night, Environmental Commission Vice Chairwoman Barbara Simpson reported that the commission's second-annual computer recycling day, held Sept. 11 in the township Municipal Complex parking lot, was successful. Ms. Simpson said 345 residents -- 75 more than last year -- turned out for drop off. About 11 tons of equipment, 1 ton more than last year, were recycled, she reported.