Proposed Route 92 Project Criticized By Federal Environmental Agency

Matthew Hersh
(Princeton) Town Topics, August 4, 2004

Preliminary studies conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers for Route 92, the proposed project that would effectively create a tie between Route 1 and the New Jersey Turnpike via South Brunswick Township, came under fire from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying the Corps failed to fully evaluate all "reasonable" alternatives.

In a July 12 letter to Richard Tomer, chief of the Corps' regulatory branch, the EPA's Robert Hargrove said that, in light of several environmentally-sensitive areas potentially impacted by the creation of the proposed throughway, the Corps, "dismissed" alternate plans that could potentially be less environmentally burdensome.

"Alternatives that are viable have been dismissed," the letter stated, adding that "other reasonable combinations of alternatives, that would meet the project's purpose and need with fewer environmental impacts, have not been analyzed."

Mr. Hargrove is the chief of the EPA's office of strategic planning and multimedia programs branch.

The purpose of the project, which was first proposed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in 1996, is to provide a high-speed, more direct connection for cars travelling along Routes 1 and 130, and the turnpike. The proposed highway is a 6.7-mile, limited access toll highway that would serve as an east-west link from Route 1 in South Brunswick to the Turnpike's 8A exit in Monroe Township. Project plans also include interchanges at Perrine Road and Route 130. A toll plaza would be placed west of Route 130.

Main concerns of the EPA are a 2.92-mile temporary impact on the Millstone River watershed, and a 10.16 mile impact on palustrine-forested wetlands, considered to be an important habitat by the EPA. A total of 13 acres of wetlands would be destroyed.

The EPA letter was in response to a 1,000-page draft study weighing the environmental impacts of the proposed project. Turnpike Authority estimates for the project are in the $400 million range. The Corps was brought in by the Turnpike Authority to conduct the study in 2000.

Support and opposition alike can be found among area mayors. Township Deputy Mayor Bill Enslin has been a consistent proponent of the plan, saying that it would help relieve traffic congestion along the Penns Neck portion of Route 1.

Recently, Mayors Phyllis Marchand of Princeton Township, Joe O'Neill of Princeton Borough, Peter Cantu of Plainsboro, Shing-Fu Hsueh of West Windsor, and Robert Patten of Hightstown Borough issued an open letter endorsing Route 92 saying that the project will make the region "more liveable by taking through traffic off local roads and putting it on a direct link with the turnpike."

"Central New Jersey has long lacked an east-west connector," the letter read, "the absence of such a road has resulted in significant traffic congestion and a threat to local safety and quality of life." The letter went on to say that the construction of Route 92 is "desperately needed."

In response to that gesture of support, a letter signed by Mayors Frank Gambatese of South Brunswick Township, Vanessa Sandom of Hopewell Township, Brian Nolan of Rocky Hill Borough, Brian Levine of Franklin Township, David Nettles of Hopewell Borough, and Deputy Mayor Andrew Bonette of East Amwell Township, charged the proposed plan as "an expensive project which doesn't solve our problems." The letter of opposition also claimed that the Corps' report does not contain "enough information to prove Route 92's need," adding that the information is "inconclusive."

"If Route 92 is so critical to the region," the June 23 open letter read, "why don't those mayors propose a realignment that would place the traffic burden closer to their towns?"