Route 92 project may be roadkill

Authority redirects $175M in funding to turnpike widening

Staff Writer
North-South Brunswick Sentinel, Dec. 1, 2005

Plans for the development of the controversial Route 92 were dealt what may be a crippling blow when $175 million was taken out of the project, devoted instead toward the widening of the New Jersey Turnpike.

The decision to redistribute the funding came during the Turnpike Authority’s morning meeting on Tuesday. It was felt that the widening of the turnpike was a higher priority than the construction of Route 92 due to the fact that, according to Turnpike Authority spokesman Joe Orlando, Route 92 still has a number of hurdles to overcome such as the economic impact study.

Still, Orlando was quick to point out that while Route 92 is definitely on hold, people should not be too quick to assume it’s dead entirely, as funds could be sent to the project in the future. Still, at the moment, the widening of the turnpike has taken priority.

"We borrowed the money [to construct Route 92] in 2000, and you ordinarily don’t keep funds sitting around for five years. You’re supposed to be using them in a more timely manner. So, given the status of the turnpike widening and the fact that it has been made a priority, it makes more sense to switch that money to the widening project," said Orlando.

Opponents of Route 92 feel differently about the funding decision. Most view it as a sign of the project’s imminent demise.

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer) and Assemblyman Bill Baroni (R-Middlesex/Mercer), longtime opponents of Route 92, praised the decision to prioritize the widening of the turnpike over the construction of Route 92.

"It’s good for the people of South Brunswick and good for the people of New Jersey that this road is going away. For me, it is an early holiday present that this road is likely almost gone, but I’d still like to see stopping the ability to fund it. ... People in the community like the No 92 coalition, who stopped this road, those who never gave up, they deserve the credit because when all the pressure was brought to bear, they never gave in," said Baroni.

According to Greenstein, the widening of the turnpike will alleviate traffic problems by keeping trucks off local roads and eventually connecting fully with the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, a group that represents developers, supported the construction of Route 92 as a way to alleviate traffic and boost the economy.

"I think the turnpike [authority] is doing the right thing. They have to set priorities, and different times and places have different priorities, and right now, the widening of the turnpike is a top priority," Greenstein said. "All of us involved in New Jersey finance know that we have limited funds and can only do so many big projects, and so I think this is one that should be a top priority."

The turnpike widening project involves relieving congestion around exit 8A in Monroe Township and Exit 6 in Mansfield by adding extra lanes. Details, such as how many lanes, are being worked out by engineers. The project is estimated to cost at least $1.3 billion and take until 2013 to complete.

The Route 92 project would have built a 6.7-mile toll road from exit 8A of the turnpike to Route 1 near Kingston. The project would have cost around $400 million and was opposed by certain groups because it would fill 12 to 14 acres of wetlands. There were also concerns that Route 92 would increase sprawl and create excess development as well as contribute to pollution.

"This has sort of been a road that will create sprawl and pollution in Central Jersey, and we’re really happy to see it die. We’ve been fighting this since we were founded in 1994," said Damien Newton, the New Jersey coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Some proponents of Route 92 are taking a wait-and-see approach regarding this new development, and do not view the funding re-allocation as a nail in any coffin.

"I think the need for that type of an east-west roadway still exists, and with the new administration and the changing actors, we can certainly renew our support for that project," said Michael McGuinness, the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties. "I would say that the re-allocation of funding does not necessarily stop the project, and we will continue to work with the proponents of the project because we feel it is needed for the economy and just to keep people moving in that part of the state."

There is about $6 million left in the Route 92 fund after the re-allocation. The money will be devoted toward paying costs that have already been incurred during the course of the project.