Route 92's journey continues

By: David Campbell , Staff Writer    
Princeton Packet, 04/23/2004

Draft environmental impact statement released.

The draft environmental impact statement of long-delayed Route 92 is now available to the public for review.

A public hearing on the document is scheduled for May 20 at the Radisson Hotel Princeton off Route 1 in South Brunswick from 2 to 5 p.m., and from 7 p.m. to midnight, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which prepared the draft document.

The Army Corps will continue to accept written comment on the draft EIS through June 14, said Richard Tomer, who heads the Army Corps' regulatory branch in New York.

The draft document makes no formal recommendation. It evaluates possible environmental impacts from the proposed highway and analyzes several alternatives to the project. Alternatives include a no-build option; measures like ride sharing, flex hours and public transit; and improved capacity to existing local and county roads and regional roadways like Route 1.

Plainsboro Township Mayor Peter Cantu said township officials are "delighted" the draft EIS has finally been released. He said it appears to support Plainsboro's longstanding belief that a road is needed to alleviate congestion, and that the Route 92 alignment is the best one.

"This really serves to provide a balanced review of alternatives and makes a case for the preferred alternative," Mayor Cantu said.

West Windsor Township Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, whose community, like Plainsboro, is among several in the region that support Route 92, said he has yet to thoroughly read the draft document.

But he noted, "No matter what you try to do, there always will be environmental impacts. The question here is whether they can be mitigated."

The West Windsor mayor has said Route 92 will benefit the region by providing a needed east-west connection between the turnpike and Route 1.

Tyler Burke of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group opposed to the proposed roadway on the basis that it would become a magnet for traffic and sprawl, said Wednesday his organization plans to review the draft document and give comments next month.

"Our opinion of the project is as it has always been — it's a very destructive project," Mr. Burke said. "Given Gov. James McGreevey's stated commitment to stopping sprawl in New Jersey, he should put a swift end to the road."

Findings in the final environmental document will be used by the Army Corps to make a decision on whether permitting for the road should be allowed. The corps will evaluate the public input and undertake any further analysis or studies that may be necessary, Mr. Tomer said.

"A number of alternatives really were discounted after going through the screening process, for environmental or other reasons," he said of the draft EIS. "There's always a chance of another alternative (to Route 92) being selected. The draft EIS doesn't rule that out, certainly."

The draft EIS is available for review at the public libraries in Plainsboro Township and South Brunswick. The document can also be viewed with an appointment at the state Department of Environmental Protection's Information Resource Center in Trenton.

Route 92 has long been proposed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to connect the New Jersey Turnpike at Interchange 8A to Route 1 near Ridge Road in South Brunswick. The 6.7-mile limited-access roadway would be built and managed by the Turnpike Authority.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working on an EIS 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 initially arose in 1999 after the DEP issued a permit, valid for five years under the Clean Water Act, contrary to recommendations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Review by the Army Corps was undertaken to help resolve the matter.

The DEP's wetland permit expired in March. A DEP spokeswoman said Commissioner Bradley Campbell will not make a final determination on whether to issue a new permit until he has had a chance to review the environmental document.

A spokesman for the Turnpike Authority has said the agency plans to reapply once it revises its proposal to comply with new DEP stormwater regulations.

Joe Orlando, the spokesman, was unavailable for comment on the newly released Army Corps draft EIS.