Princeton Township backs plan for Route 92 roundtable

By: David Campbell, Staff Writer    
Princeton Packet, 11/26/2004

But the council did not reverse its past support for the roadway.

Responding to a request by the Princeton Environmental Commission, the Princeton Township Committee backed a resolution Monday night calling for a community roundtable to weigh alternatives to the long-delayed and controversial Route 92.

The committee voted 3-0 in support of a mediated roundtable similar to the one that was created by the state Department of Transportation to resolve differences over the former Millstone Bypass, with Committeeman William Hearon absent and Mayor Phyllis Marchand abstaining.

Mayor Marchand said she was "uncomfortable" supporting a roundtable at this time because a final environmental review of Route 92 has not yet been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The mayor also said an east-west road such as the one being contemplated by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is very much needed in the region.

Committeewoman Casey Hegener said findings already suggest the proposed roadway would bring harmful environmental impacts and questioned what traffic benefits the road would bring.

"I personally believe there are a lot of negative impacts," Ms. Hegener said, adding that further analysis in a roundtable setting would be beneficial.

Deputy Mayor William Enslin said he was sympathetic with a roundtable approach, and while he cast a supporting vote, like the mayor he expressed concern about the timing of calling for one. He said he wants the township's action to have maximum political impact, and questioned whether that would be the case if the committee endorsed a roundtable before the Army Corps' final environmental impact statement is issued.

Laura Lynch of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, who also addressed the committee Monday night, said the time to act is now, before a final EIS is issued, when she said a final recommended alignment will be unveiled with no further opportunity for public comment.

Ms. Lynch urged the committee to lend its support now, indicating that there are at least two groups prepared to take legal action over Route 92, and said mediation in a community-roundtable format is needed before lawsuits are filed. "The flaws in the (draft EIS) will lead to litigation," she said.

She said it is not yet clear where funding for such a roundtable would come from.

Although the committee's vote Monday night supported a roundtable, a formal resolution has yet to be approved. The Princeton Borough Council has already approved such a resolution. The council did not reverse its past support for the proposed roadway, but suggested a discussion process similar to the one formed to mediate differences over the former Millstone Bypass might yield better results for the Route 92 design.

The borough and township have approved formal resolutions endorsing Route 92. West Windsor and Plainsboro have also expressed support for the roadway project.

On Monday night, environmental commission member Rosemary Blair said she was "mystified" by borough and township support for the road. She said the roadway would funnel traffic from the New Jersey Turnpike into Princeton and neighboring Kingston, bringing "incredible traffic" to "already clogged streets."

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 Army Corps has been working on an environmental impact statement 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Army Corps released its draft EIS to the public in April. A public hearing on the document was held in May during which 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.

In support of its case, the Environmental Commission points to a letter submitted by the EPA in July as part of the public comment on the Army Corps' draft document that claims all reasonable alternatives have not been fully evaluated. The EPA letter says there is a potential for "significant environmental impacts" from the limited-access toll road, suggesting that, contrary to the corps' conclusions, Route 92 would result in increased traffic congestion.

Environmental commission members have 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 as an alternative.