Rt. 92 roundtable gains support

By: Joseph Harvie and David Campbell, The Packet Group   
South Brunswick Post, 11/24/2004

Municipalities to meet and discuss Route 92.

The Princeton Township Committee endorsed a resolution Monday calling for a mediated roundtable with other municipalities to determine the fate of Route 92.

The committee voted 3-0 in support of a mediated roundtable similar to the one that was created by the state Department of Transportation to resolve differences over the former Millstone Bypass, with Committeeman William Hearon absent and Mayor Phyllis Marchand abstaining.

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese called the Princeton vote a positive step. South Brunswick is opposed to the proposed four-lane, limited-access toll road. He said Tuesday afternoon he was happy that Princeton Township is open to discuss Route 92.

"I think our position is at least going to get a fair hearing from all towns," he said Tuesday. "And that's all we really ever asked, is that people sit down and look at this road and try and explore other alternatives."

Cathy Dowgin, a South Brunswick resident and a member of No 92, a group opposed to the road, said she would attend the roundtable discussion if she were invited and said it was nice to see Princeton Township come out in favor of the discussion.

"I think it is about time that they really looked into it and not take a blind stamp for the road," Ms. Dowgin said. "They have been let down the garden path in the past and it is about time they had a mind of their own."

The Princeton committee's support of the roundtable concept comes one month after the Princeton Borough Council adopted a resolution on Oct. 12 calling for the same thing. The two governing bodies were responding to concerns raised by the Princeton Environmental Commission, which has members appointed from both communities. The borough and the township have expressed support of the highway in the past.

Laura Lynch of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter addressed the Princeton committee Monday night. She said the time to act is now before a final EIS is issued, when a final recommended alignment will be unveiled with no further opportunity for public comment.

Ms. Lynch urged the committee to lend its support now, indicating that there are at least two groups prepared to take legal action over Route 92, and said mediation in a community-roundtable format is needed before lawsuits are filed.

"The flaws in the (draft EIS) will lead to litigation," she said. She said it is not yet clear where funding for such a roundtable would come from.

The Army Corps has been working on an environmental impact statement 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 arose in 1999 after the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit contrary to recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Army Corps released its draft EIS to the public in April. A public hearing on the document was held in May during which opponents of the road vastly outnumbered those who spoke in favor of it. The majority of the attendees were South Brunswick residents worried about traffic impacts to their community, though opponents from other communities in the region also spoke.

The committee's vote Monday night supported a roundtable, but a formal resolution has yet to be approved. The Princeton Borough Council has already approved such a resolution. The council did not reverse its past support for the proposed roadway, but suggested a discussion process similar to the one formed to mediate differences over the former bypass might yield better results for the Route 92 design.

The borough and township have approved formal resolutions endorsing Route 92. West Windsor and Plainsboro have also expressed support for the roadway project. South Brunswick, Franklin and several other towns to west of Route 27 have formally opposed the highway.

On Monday night, environmental commission member Rosemary Blair said she was "mystified" by the borough's and township's support of the road. She said the roadway would funnel traffic from the N.J. Turnpike into Princeton and neighboring Kingston, bringing "incredible traffic" to "already clogged streets."

Route 92 has been proposed by the N.J. Turnpike Authority as an east-west connector between Turnpike Interchange 8A and Route 1 near Ridge Road in South Brunswick. The 6.7-mile toll road would be built and managed by the Turnpike Authority, and would cost an estimated $400 million.

In support of its case, the Environmental Commission points to a letter submitted by the EPA in July as part of the public comment on the Army Corps' draft document that claims all reasonable alternatives have not been fully evaluated. The EPA letter says there is a potential for "significant environmental impacts" from the limited-access toll road, suggesting that, contrary to the corps' conclusions, Route 92 would result in increased traffic congestion.

Environmental Commission members have said the new Route 522, if a connection to the Turnpike were to be built, could serve as an alternative to Route 92, and should be considered as an alternative.

South Brunswick is moving forward with plans to extend Route 522 to Ridge Road near Route 535, which runs directly into the Turnpike. Construction is set to begin in 2005.

Princeton Township Mayor Marchand, who abstained from Monday's vote, said she was "uncomfortable" supporting a roundtable at this time because a final environmental review of Route 92 has not yet been issued by the Army Corps. The mayor also said an east-west road such as the one being contemplated by the Turnpike Authority is very much needed in the region.

Princeton Township Committeewoman Casey Hegener disagreed, saying findings already suggest the proposed roadway would bring harmful environmental impacts and questioned what traffic benefits the road would bring.

"I personally believe there are a lot of negative impacts," Ms. Hegener said, and indicated that further analysis in a roundtable setting would be beneficial.