South Brunswick sets up fund to fight Turnpike spur

By: Rebecca Tokarz , Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 02/12/2004

Township places $50,000 in "No 92 Legal Trust Fund."

The Township Council has created a trust fund to help fund its fight against Route 92.

Mayor Frank Gambatese said Wednesday that the township has placed $50,000 in the trust fund, called "No 92 Legal Trust Fund," and will continue to place money into the account as long as it's needed. The township is encouraging other municipalities and township residents to support the fund as well.

In addition, Assemblyman Bill Baroni and state Sen. Peter Inverso, Republicans who represent South Brunswick, announced legislation Wednesday that calls for the repeal of the N.J. Turnpike Authority's authorization to build Route 92.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which is required to review the project because of a disagreement over permitting between state and federal regulators, is currently in the process of writing an environmental impact statement about the proposal. A draft preliminary environmental impact statement had been distributed to state officials for feedback, including the Department of Transportation, the N.J. Turnpike Authority and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Richard Tomar said Wednesday the group is looking at a possible March or April release date on the EIS.

Route 92 is a proposed 6.7-mile, limited-access roadway that would link Route 1 near Ridge Road with the N.J. Turnpike at Exit 8A. The proposed roadway would cut through the northern tip of Plainsboro and run east to west through much of South Brunswick along Friendship Road.

"We need legislators to help with this fight. We've been fighting this for years," Mayor Gambatese said. "It has been displayed to us that this road is still being considered and a decision will be made very soon. We can't do this alone. We will fight this to the death. We're prepared to fight this in court."

The mayor's comments came during a press conference held by Assemblyman Baroni and Sen. Inverso. The press conference was held on a piece of farmland on Friendship Road on Wednesday morning.

Mayor Gambatese said the trust fund is an extension of a township fund that is used for litigation. The "No 92 Trust Fund" is a separate fund that will be used for legal costs related to fighting the proposed roadway.

He said the township's opposition to Route 92 has cost a significant amount of money, but couldn't pinpoint the exact amount. He said the trust fund would be used to retain the services of New York City attorney Michael Gererd. Mayor Gambatese said he anticipates a legal battle that could prove costly if recommendations are made to build the highway.

The township recently took $50,000 from the litigation fund of the budget and placed it in the Route 92 fund, Mayor Gambatese said.

He said additional money would be placed into the fund accordingly.

Citing the environmental impact and the potential for increased traffic congestion the proposed roadway would have in the area, the pair announced the introduction of legislation Wednesday that would stop the construction of Route 92.

The legislation, which has been referred to the state Senate and Assembly Transportation Committees, would revoke the Turnpike Authority's authorization to build the roadway. The Turnpike was given authority to build the road, originally proposed by the DOT, in 1991.

Also in attendance were members of the state Sierra Club and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, members of the Township Council, Franklin Township Councilwoman Shirley Eberle and a handful of the public.

 The Army Corp of Engineers is conducting an environmental review of the proposed road because the construction of Route 92 would require filling in wetlands.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency refused environmental permits for the highway in 1998. The state Department of Environmental Protection, however, issued permits for it in 1999.

he Army Corps of Engineers is required to review the project because of the disagreement. The Army Corps reviewed the project and determined that an environmental impact statement was necessary.

Officials said South Brunswick has done its part to help ease traffic congestion woes in the area with the construction of Route 522 and the estimated $400 million price tag for the roadway would be better used elsewhere.

They said the first issue that needs to be addressed is the congestion problems that exist on Route 1 and funding would be better spent widening that roadway.

"When the project was first proposed it appeared to have merit. But the estimated cost has skyrocketed far beyond what was envisioned, and the highway's impact on the environment may be more significant than we believed," Sen. Inverso said. "When you add these concerns to New Jersey's current transportation funding problems, there appears to be no justification for constructing the highway."

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, a Democrat who represents South Brunswick, did not attend the press conference. She said she was not taking a position on the road until after the EIS is released and public hearings are held.

She wants to see what the Army Corps says about other road alternatives, such as Route 522 and a new connection between the N.J. Turnpike and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

She says she supports ways to improve mass transit, but would not rule out Route 92.

"We can't completely avoid looking at East/West solutions," she said.