S.B. reaffirms opposition to Route 92

Despite being defunded, project may not be dead yet
Staff Writer
North-South Brunswick Sentinel, Nov. 16, 2006

Despite having lost millions of dollars in funding, the Route 92 project is still being pushed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which released what it calls a final environmental impact study.

Public comment on the report, which weighs in at more than 2,000 pages, was expected to be concluded today. According to Ann Zeman, a South Brunswick resident who has been reading the new study, the corps will be interpreting silence on the matter as acceptance of the report's findings.

"It's very disturbing," said Zeman.

In response, Franklin Township has already passed a resolution voicing opposition to the project. South Brunswick's Township Council passed a similar resolution during a meeting Monday.

"We're not going to give up the fight now," said Deputy Mayor Carol Barrett.

In order to fight the project, the council hired attorney Michael Gerrard, a specialist in such matters. In May 2004, the township set aside $60,000 to fight the construction of Route 92, which included paying Gerrard $625 an hour. According to Gambatese, there is about $8,300 of the original battle fund left, of which Gerrard has asked for around $7,500. He has been paid to read the study and write a rebuttal before the deadline passes.

"We're hiring Mr. Gerrard for just this reason, and the money is there," said Gambatese.

Zeman and the governments of South Brunswick and many other surrounding municipalities have all vociferously opposed the construction of the controversial Route 92.

The Route 92 project would have built a 6.7-mile toll road from Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 1 near Kingston. The project would have cost around $400 million and was opposed by certain groups that contended that it would fill 12 to 14 acres of wetlands. There were also concerns that Route 92 would increase sprawl, development and contribute to pollution.

Some towns, especially Princeton, have been vocal supporters of the road, much to the annoyance of Gambatese.

In November 2005, the project received a crippling blow when $175 million was taken out of its funding and devoted, instead, toward the widening of the turnpike, which many at the time interpreted as the project's death knell.

According to Steve Masticola, a member of the No 92 Coalition, a citizens group that heavily opposed Route 92, the project should not be considered harmless until it is completely and utterly buried.

"Even with 92 defunded, the Turnpike Authority could 'discover' some pot of money to fund it in the future unless it's killed outright," said Masticola.

South Brunswick has long promoted the construction of Route 522-1A as an alternative to Route 92. The road, the funds for which were bonded in December 2005, will run from the intersection of routes 522 and 130, through a section of warehouses, and re-connect with Ridge Road just west of the turnpike. It will cost around $8 million.

Gambatese said that if people are really worried about how to improve the flow of traffic in the area, Route 1 should be widened. Councilman Joseph Camarota said that the Army Corps of Engineers was being disingenuous by calling the latest study a final one, since there are already plans to present a new one, taking public comments into account, sometime in December.

"Even though they say it's final, it's not, and that's why we need to get [our rebuttal] out there," said Camarota.

Gambatese noted that the issue of Route 92 keeps popping up, especially during transportation forums that he and Township Manager Matthew Watkins attend every so often. He said he is getting frustrated.

"All I hear is [Plainsboro] Mayor [Peter] Cantu and ex-Mayor [Marvin] Reed of Princeton constantly bringing up 92, constantly, and nothing ever stops. Every single quarter, the same rhetoric is put forward and nothing ever gets done, and I told them, point blank, South Brunswick is tired of it," said Gambatese.