Princeton Township pressed to back roundtable on Route 92

By: David Campbell , Staff Writer
Princeton Packet, 10/22/2004

Princeton Borough Council recently supported the propsoal.

The Princeton Environmental Commission will petition the Princeton Township Committee to call for a community roundtable to weigh alternatives to the long-delayed and controversial Route 92.

On Wednesday night, the commission discussed the recent decision by the Princeton Borough Council to back a resolution endorsing a mediated public roundtable similar to the one created by the state Department of Transportation to resolve the longstanding stalemate over the former Millstone Bypass.

At its meeting last week, the Borough 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 bypass might yield better results for the Route 92 design.

Borough Councilman David Goldfarb said the public and all interested parties would have greater opportunities to address concerns about Route 92 under the roundtable format, and borough Mayor Joseph O'Neill indicated a roundtable process could help area stakeholders reach an informed decision.

On Wednesday night, borough Councilwoman Wendy Benchley, who is the council's liaison to the Environmental Commission, said the council felt a roundtable "made good sense," and noted that such a mediated approach would be "a huge step forward."

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

On Wednesday night, Environmental Commission member Rosemary Blair said the township and borough cast their approval as a gesture of support for Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, who has long advocated for the road. Last week, Mayor Cantu said he was "not enthusiastic" about a roundtable, which he said would delay the project and harm the region.

Ms. Blair said Route 92 would have "severe consequences" for Princeton because she said it would, in effect, funnel traffic from Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike into Princeton. Grace Sinden, the Princeton Regional Health Commission's representative on the Environmental Commission, said the roadway essentially would create a direct route from the turnpike to Nassau Street.

Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand described the bypass roundtable as a "wonderful collaborative effort," and regretted a similar process wasn't started earlier on Route 92.

"I see no reason not to do it," she said of the commission's proposal, but added a lengthy roundtable process could further delay addressing the need for east-west connector roads in the region.

The Township Committee was scheduled to hold its regular meeting Monday night, but that meeting has been canceled. The committee is set to meet next on Nov. 8 at Township Hall.

Route 92 has been proposed by the New Jersey 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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 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 at 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 says "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, proposed Route 92 would result in increased traffic congestion.