Rt. 92 money shifts to Pike

Trenton Times, Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Staff Writer

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority yesterday took $175 million intended for the long-proposed, much-opposed Route 92 construction and reappropriated it for use in widening the Turnpike from Middlesex County to Burlington County, a move hailed as a victory by Route 92 opponents.

Turnpike officials insisted the proposed Route 92 - an east-west Turnpike extension that would connect Route 1 in South Brunswick with the Turnpike in Monroe - remains alive.

But the proposed six-lane highway now has just $6.5 million dedicated to it, and the Turnpike Authority has no imminent plans to move forward on the project.

"I'm extremely pleased with this," said South Brunswick resident Cathy Dowgin, a longtime Route 92 foe. "Obviously, I think it's been a long time coming."

Turnpike spokesman Joe Orlando said the Turnpike widening simply takes precedence over Route 92, a roadway proposed in various forms for several decades amid fierce opposition from South Brunswick and environmentalists.

"The priority of the authority at this point is the widening of the Turnpike," Orlando said.

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese said he would have preferred all the Route 92 money be shifted toward Turnpike widening but said the township was pleased. Officials there have worried that Route 92 would flood the township, especially Route 1, with increased traffic.

"It shows a small little town, if it stands up for its rights, can stand up and be victorious," Gambatese said.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the state Sierra Club, which was concerned about, among other things, Route 92 destroying wetlands, praised the decision.

"Route 92 is the worst sprawl-inducing project in New Jersey, so pulling the funding is a positive step," Tittel said. "I also think it means 92 is dead for at least the foreseeable future."

 Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Hamilton, another Route 92 foe, hailed the decision. "This goes a long way to stopping that road," Baroni said.

Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey announced plans to widen the Turnpike almost a year ago. At an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, the widening will rank among the most expensive transportation projects in state history.

Plans are to widen the toll road from Exit 8A in Monroe to Exit 6 in Mansfield. Exit 8A is where the Turnpike's two truck lanes and three car lanes narrow into a single three-lane highway, often causing severe congestion.

Codey's plan calls for extending the separate car and truck lanes for 20 miles, from where they end near Exit 8A through Mercer County to Exit 6 in Burlington County.

That Turnpike section is expected to see increased traffic when Interstate 95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike are linked in Bucks County, Pa. The Pennsylvania Turnpike project is expected to take almost 15 years to complete and will involve an additional Delaware River bridge linking the New Jersey and Pennsylvania turnpikes.

Orlando said the $175 million will go toward the Turnpike widening's first expenses, which he said would likely involve preliminary engineering and the completion of an environmental impact statement by the end of 2006.

Final design is expected to be completed in 2009, with the new Turnpike lanes open in 2013.

While the project is expected to cost $1.3 billion, Turnpike officials note that is a preliminary estimate and caution that the project's scope hasn't been finalized. A more accurate cost estimate is expected in spring 2006.

NOTE: Contact State House bureau chief Tom Hester Jr. at thester@njtimes.com or at (609) 777-4464.