State delays Route 92 report

By: Gwen McNamara , Staff Writer 06/06/2003

Smart-growth review to be conducted.

It looks like those seeking details on the proposed Route 92 will have to wait a while longer to check out the roadway's draft environmental impact statement.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority has requested a delay in the release of the document so the state Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection and governor's office can review it.

"We want to make sure all smart-growth and land-use issues are properly addressed," said Joseph Orlando, Turnpike Authority spokesman. "It's an important project and we want to make sure all criteria are met and potential uses evaluated. It just seemed like the right thing to do."

Route 92 has long been proposed by the Turnpike Authority to connect the New Jersey Turnpike at exit 8A to Route 1 near Ridge Road in South Brunswick. The 6.7-mile, limited-access roadway would be built and managed by the Turnpike Authority.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been working on an environmental impact statement for the roadway since 2000 in order to determine whether to issue a wetland permit to the Turnpike Authority for the project.

Conflict initially arose in 1999 after the DEP issued the permit against recommendations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Until recently, the Army Corps expected to release a draft EIS in May.

"But with the state's new smart-growth and land-use initiatives and recent perspectives, the Turnpike Authority wants to make sure these new ideas are factored into the EIS," said Pete Shugert, Army Corps spokesman. "We have agreed to delay releasing the draft and expect this new review to take no more than three months."

The delay has not discouraged supporters of the project and is being hailed as a step in the right direction by opponents of the roadway.

"It's not a problem," said Anthony Pizzutillo, of 92NOW, an organization supporting the construction of Route 92. "If the administration needs a couple more months to assure this project complements smart-growth philosophy, then we're 100 percent for it."

"The roadway would connect two areas of growth," added Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, a Route 92 advocate. "And in Plainsboro, we've preserved all the land that would abut it to prevent development. If properly used, the roadway could really represent what is meant by the state's smart-growth initiative."

Representatives of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation watchdog group long opposed to Route 92, are happy that smart-growth and land-use issues are being examined, but disagree with the mayor's assessment.

"We believe the highway will promote sprawl and traffic growth, instead of solving such problems," said Kate Slevin, Tri-State representative.

Barbara Lawrence of New Jersey Future, a smart-growth advocacy group, also sees the new review as positive.

"We have no position on Route 92," she stressed. "But transportation decisions must not be made without looking at land use. Otherwise we'll never get out of the fix we're in. If that's what the Turnpike Authority is going for, then I think it's a good idea."

Once the draft EIS is released, there will be a 45-day public comment period. The Army Corps is expected to incorporate public comment into its decision on the wetland permit. Ultimate approval of the entire project will be up to Gov. James E. McGreevey.

The DOT and DEP did not return calls for comment.

E.J. Miranda of the state Department of Community Affairs said the department's Office of Smart Growth will not comment until "it has a chance to thoroughly review the EIS."