Route 92 report is puzzling to many
By: Hillary Parker, The Packet Group
South Brunswick Post, 10/05/2006
Opponents question report's lack of a recommendation, while
Turnpike says highway is no longer a priority.
The Final Environmental Impact
Statement for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's proposed Route 92
project, released Thursday by the New York District of the U.S
Army Corps of Engineers, provided
more questions than answers about the east-west toll road.
Though the final EIS contains information on numerous aspects of the
project and evaluates proposed alternatives -- such as no action or
roadway capacity improvements to existing local and county roads -- it does not include a final recommended
The final decision is not expected
until sometime in 2007, according to the Army Corps, after the
public comment period concludes Nov. 14 and the Turnpike Authority
receives needed approvals from the New Jersey Department of
Environmental Protection, including a Water Quality Certificate. Comments submitted by individuals and
agencies through Nov. 14 will be factored into the final decision,
the Corps said.
The release of the report left several affected parties and interest
"After all these years, and however
many pages this document is, they can't make a recommendation?"
asked South Brunswick resident Cathy Dowgin, a member of NO 92. "I find that appalling."
Not only is the final EIS report
"deficient," said Laura Lynch, conservation chair of the New
Jersey Sierra Club, it's
"questionably legal" because it makes no final recommendation.
According to New Jersey Sierra Club Executive Director Jeff Tittel, a final EIS is legally required to make a
recommendation — and Sierra Club officials think the fact that one isn't included isn't
necessarily an oversight by the Army Corps.
"They might have done that on purpose
because they don't want to get involved in (proposed Route 92) and (not
making a recommendation) delays it," Ms. Lynch said. "They'll have to go back and do it and
address the deficiencies. The state doesn't want to touch the project;
the Army Corps doesn't want it. It's the only way for them to
wriggle out of a difficult situation."
The Turnpike Authority was similarly baffled by the Army Corps'
decision to release a final report without a recommendation.
"I don't understand the circumstances,"
said spokesman Joe Orlando. "I don't
think anyone here really grasps it completely."
Whatever led to the Corps' decision to once again allow public comment,
Mr. Orlando said it doesn't really matter to the Turnpike Authority.
"The bottom line is that the whole
Route 92 project is not really a priority to us right now," he
said. "Right now, the main priority
is the widening of the turnpike."
This was the reason, he said, that $175 million of the $181.5 million
originally earmarked for Route 92 was diverted to the turnpike widening
project in December 2005. With the upcoming direct connection between
the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 95, Mr. Orlando said
priorities have changed and it's essential that the widening project be
fast-tracked to handle increased demand.
With an eye toward awarding contracts for the final design of the
widening project at the end of this year or in the first quarter of
2007, Mr. Orlando said the Turnpike Authority is in the process of
expediting the DEP permitting process for that project. Ideally, he said, the widening project
would begin in late 2009 with a projected completion in 2013.
As for the Water Quality Certificate permit needed for the Route 92
project, Mr. Orlando reiterated that the
project is definitely "on the backburner."
He added, "We're not going to be
running down to the DEP tomorrow (for the proposed Route 92 permit).
We're focused on the widening."
In the final EIS, the Corps noted, "The purpose of NJTA's Route 92
project is to improve regional mobility, especially east-west mobility,
for the central New Jersey area in and around southwestern Middlesex
County and northeastern Mercer County." There does not exist at this
time, the report said, a connecting highway between Route 1 and the
turnpike, which run parallel to each other for a nearly 25-mile stretch
between New Brunswick and Trenton.
"My understanding is that the document is certainly not unfavorable to
the roadway going forward," said Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, long an
outspoken proponent of the proposed 6.7-mile toll road, who said he was
aware of the report on Thursday but had not yet reviewed the document.
"Our position has been for years that any rational study of this will
not only support the need for the roadway, but also support that it is
the best solution."
The mayor said Plainsboro is likely to weigh in on the final EIS,
continuing a more than 20-year involvement in the highly controversial
Like Mayor Cantu, Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand said she
had not yet seen the final report and was hesitant to comment prior to
Provided the report does not indicate the proposed roadway would be
"environmentally destructive," Mayor Marchand said she believed the
community and the Regional Planning Board of Princeton would continue
to endorse Route 92, as they have in the past. Historically, both
Princetons, Cranbury, West Windsor and Plainsboro have been in favor of
the project, while South Brunswick, Franklin, Montgomery, Rocky Hill,
Hillsborough, Hopewell Township and Hopewell Borough have opposed it.
South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese
was less than thrilled with the report.
"I think what the Army Corps did was
punt here," he said, at the same time offering his support for
the Turnpike Authority?s decision to divert funds to the widening
"I would've liked to have seen (the Corps) come down on the side of
'no, this isn't a good thing to do.'"
As for the actual environmental impacts of Route 92, the majority of
the wetlands affected by the project would be in the Devil's Brook
wetland complex, according to the report, which is part of a roughly
1,650-acre forested area in South Brunswick and Plainsboro. The proposed Route 92 would cross the
southern half of the Devil's Brook wetland area, and the project would
necessitate filling 12 acres of wetlands. The route would also cross the northern
portion of the Plainsboro Preserve.
Officials from the New Jersey Audubon Society and the Army Corps of
Engineers could not be reached for comment Thursday.
South Brunswick Post Staff Writer Bill Greenwood contributed to this