The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a lot more to think about.
More than 200 people addressed the Corps during a public hearing on the controversial Route 92 project last week.
"This [project] is asphalt in search of a purpose," New York environmental attorney Michael Gerrard told Corps officers during the hearing May 20 at the Radisson Hotel in South Brunswick.
The township has retained Gerrard to try and stop the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s plan to build a $400 million, 6.7-mile toll road between exit 8A of the turnpike and Route 1. The plan calls for the filling of 12.03 acres of wetlands to build the elevated highway.
The Corps took jurisdiction of the permit under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act when the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state Department of Environ-mental Protection (DEP) disagreed on whether to issue a permit for the project. Although the DEP has the authority to issue such a permit, and it did just that in 1999, the EPA is allowed to object to the plan because of the amount of wetlands to be filled.
That permit expired at the end of March.
The EPA formally objected to the plan in 1998, citing several alternatives including the newly completed Route 522 as a way to relieve east-west traffic congestion in the region.
When the two agencies disagreed on the project, the Corps commissioned a comprehensive study of the project in 1999. That study, the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS), was finally released to the public late last month, and last week’s hearing was scheduled to take public comments on the plan.
The public can still comment to the Corps in writing until June 14. The Corps will issue a decision on the permit around 45 days after that, according to Corps officials.
The majority of people speaking during the hearing opposed the planned roadway.
"Route 92 is the wrong road, at the wrong place, at the wrong time," state Assemblyman Bill Baroni (R-14) told Corps officials.
Baroni is sponsoring legislation that would take away the turnpike’s authority to build the road.
During a press conference prior to the hearing, Baroni said the bill is presently stalled in the Assembly’s Transportation Committee and the chairman of the committee, state Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D-19), refuses to discuss the issue.
"We have the authority to stop this," Baroni said.
Friendship Road resident Cathy Dowgin, leader of the No 92 coalition, said that the project will only save about four minutes of commuting time.
"According to the Army Corps DEIS, Route 92 would save, at most, four minutes of travel time by 2028, resulting in a cost of more than $100 million per minute. Are four minutes worth ruining so much of our environment and wasting so much of our money?" Dowgin asked.
Councilman Edmund Luciano questioned the Corps about the impact of the construction itself.
"Who is going to pay South Brunswick to fix the roads after the big construction trucks ruin them?" Luciano asked.
Luciano said the report did not address the issues that constructing the road would bring.
"Did you look at the footprint of building the road?" Luciano said.
South Brunswick Police Chief Michael Paquette said he feared what the road’s construction would do for emergency responses on Route 1, and on the proposed roadway itself.
"Route 92 is a monumental mistake. It is a formula for gridlock," Paquette said.
Several residents from the historic Village of Kingston also questioned the Corps on the impacts they fear will happen once the road is built. Those residents said they were surprised that the study did little to address what would happen west of the interchange with Route 1.
Kingston resident Ann Zeman called for a "roundtable discussion" including towns to the west of the proposed road to address traffic concerns.
Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, a staunch supporter of the road, told the Corps that the plan is "critical" to the region.
"In Plainsboro, we take these issues seriously. We believe Route 92 is essential," Cantu said.
While Cantu and other officials from Plainsboro expressed support for the project, Plainsboro resident Bob Luszcz, 33, attended the hearing to oppose the plan.
"I take the turnpike every day. I have no problems whatsoever," Luszcz said outside the hearing room. Luszcz said the only problem he faces in his commute is the merge of the car and truck lanes on the turnpike itself.
"I usually get off at exit 9 [East Brunswick] and take the back roads home," Luszcz said.
He also said that the proposed 75-cent toll for cars was more than he would want to spend.
"I’m not paying another 75 cents to go home," Luszcz said.
During the earlier press conference, Gerrard said South Brunswick may resort to a lawsuit in order to stop the road.
"The potential of a lawsuit is perfect. There are so many defects in the DEIS," Gerrard said.