SOUTH BRUNSWICK: Debate over whether the proposed Route 92 represents a regional transportation solution or "private driveway" continued yesterday at a public hearing hosted by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The hearing, which started in the early afternoon and lasted until late evening, brought together state dignitaries, officials from various municipalities and residents who were hardly neutral on the issue at hand -- a controversial plan by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to build a 6.7-mile toll road that would link Route 1 at Ridge Road with Interchange 8A.
Many people wore bright red "NO 92" buttons. Applause at different points in the discussion indicated others' positions.
The corps supported the plan in its draft environmental impact statement that was released last month, putting it at odds with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which rejected an earlier proposal on the basis that it could cause potential damage to South Brunswick's wetlands.
Critics argue that corporate neighbors would see the most benefit from the road, while additional traffic will be funneled through the historic village of Kingston, ruining hundreds of acres of farmland at a cost -- $500 million by some estimates -- that outweighs any benefits. Mayors and council members in South Brunswick, Franklin and other Somerset County municipalities have passed resolutions against the project.
Ann Zeman, chairwoman of the Kingston Village Advisory Committee, expressed dismay that there was scant attention paid to how Route 92 would impact the traffic flow, pedestrian safety, roadway conditions or maintenance, noise conditions or air quality in the historic village.
"The flaws and inconsistencies of the EIS are substantial and grave," Zeman told a panel of corps representatives. "They call into question the authority and validity of the entire process."
Proponents say that Route 92 would relieve a heavily traveled, rapidly developing area that needs east-west access and an easier route to and from the Turnpike. Freeholders from Middlesex and Mercer counties have announced their support, along with governing bodies and officials in Monroe, North Brunswick, Plainsboro, Cranbury and several municipalities in Mercer County.
Middlesex County Planning Director George Ververides said he was sensitive to the township's environmental and traffic concerns, but that the highway is badly needed to address rapid growth in the southern part of the county, particularly in the warehouse district near Turnpike's Interchange 8A.
The construction of Route 522, a county road that extends east from Route 27, has addressed some of the local traffic needs, but it is not enough to satisfy such regional issues as truck traffic, he said.
"We have good north-south traffic at the present time served by Route 1, the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 130 and also we have the Northeast Corridor Rail Line. The lack of east-west roads to connect these north-south alignments is important to us," Ververides said.
Prior to the public hearing, South Brunswick officials held a news conference to discuss the legal effort they would mount against any plan to build the highway.
Attorney Michael Gerrard, special environmental counsel to South Brunswick, said the proposal violates two federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, and the study presents an inadequate summary of the region's ecological resources.
"This road is asphalt in search of a purpose," Gerrard said.
According to the corps' report, a plan that would widen Route 1 in South Brunswick and build Route 92 would pose the least disruption from an environmental perspective while meeting the project's purpose. The study acknowledged that the proposal would displace approximately 210 acres of farmland and interfere with access to an additional 78 acres.
The record will remain open until 5 p.m. on June 14 for written comments on the proposal. All comments may be sent to the following address: New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, ATTN: Route 92 DEIS, 26 Federal Plaza, Room 1937, New York, NY 10278. Comments may also be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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