Route 92 opposition heartened by state's anti-sprawl strategy

Star-Ledger, Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

When Cathy Dowgin saw red, she was thrilled.

At last, Dowgin thought, her fight to kill Route 92 was in the home stretch. All of the land needed in South Brunswick to build the road
to connect the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 1 is in red on the state's new land-use map, denoting restricted growth.

Gov. James E. McGreevey last week unveiled the map, which shows areas of New Jersey where officials want to discourage development,
including construction of new roads that open up rural areas to building.

The $300 million [sic] road has been tied up by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is awaiting the results of an environmental assessment. The assessment will determine whether the corps will grant a permit to fill in 14 acres of freshwater wetlands. Without the permit, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority cannot start construction.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation said she could not comment on how the state's new development map will affect
Route 92.

"We're going to wait for the EIS (environmental impact statement) results before we go any further," said the spokeswoman, Ann Farneski.
"We need to see what it says before we decide what to do about the road."

The Army Corps ordered the Turnpike Authority in 2000 to perform the environmental study after the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection split on whether to go forward and grant the permits.

The EPA opposed the project because it would destroy the wetlands and there were less environmentally damaging alternatives. The DEP granted the state permit, but without the federal one, the project can't be built.

The 6.7-mile toll road would connect Interchange 8A of the Turnpike with Route 1 at Ridge Road, traversing through farmland and wooded
areas. There would be no exits onto local roads, only one at each end.

The idea to build an east-west road that connected Route 1, the Turnpike, Route 27 and Route 206 through southern Middlesex County,
northern Mercer and southeastern Somerset counties has been around for more than 40 years and has been studied by more than a dozen agencies and consultants.

In 1992, the Legislature gave the project to the Turnpike Authority, hoping to get it off the back burner and into the hands of construction workers.

Instead, the project has become bogged down in the permit process. The various alignment changes made to appease one town or another have
also added delay.

The original alignment, unveiled in 1994, would have taken the road through northern Plainsboro and Princeton, but opposition from
residents and officials in those towns forced the Turnpike Authority to reroute the road north through South Brunswick, which created a
furor with that town's officials and residents.

Supporters, including the Middlesex County freeholders and Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, argue the road is needed to divert trucks from
local roads and provide a safe east-west route for all of the truck traffic that has increased with construction of all of the nearby industrial parks and warehouses.

Opponents say the road will not lessen traffic on local roads, only destroy local farms and open space and endanger the historic village of Kingston, which is near the road's terminus.

"It is our position that Route 92 has always been a violation of state and local land-use plans," said Janine Bauer, executive director of
the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an activist organization that advocates the use of mass transit over construction of highways.
"We're confident in the end the area that is earmarked for Route 92, now designated open space and farmland, will be open space and farmland and that Route 92 will be dead."

The first draft of the environmental study is due out this spring, but Dowgin said she would be "very happy" if someone in the state --
either the transportation commissioner or the governor -- would kill the project.

"My daughter was 9 years old when we started this fight and she's now a freshman in college," she said. "I really think in light of the
governor's plans to fight sprawl, it would be really difficult to push for this road, especially when it violates their own plan."

Sue Epstein covers Middlesex County. She can be reached at sep or (732) 634-6482.