Staying the course on Route 92

Organizations not swayed by draft environmental study.

By: Matthew Kirdahy, South Brunswick Post
Staff Writer 04/29/2004

Last week's release of a draft environmental study on proposed Route 92 is changing few minds.

Environmental advocacy groups remain opposed to the highway, while long-time supporters continue to voice their support.

And both sides say they plan to make their opinions known when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers holds a public hearing May 20 on the draft.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement was released April 21. The Army Corps is conducting the review because federal and state environmental agencies disagree about whether permits should be issued for the filling of wetlands. The federal Environmental Protection Agency refused to issue permits in 1998, saying there were less environmentally disruptive alternatives, while the state Department of Environmental Protection issued permits in 1999. The Army Corps is required to review the issue and determine the fate of the permits.

While the draft released last week did not take a position on the highway, it said that construction of a new east-west highway would improve east-west traffic and provide an alternative for traffic moving north and south, and reduce traffic impacts on local roads.

Koko Cronin, project manger for the Army Corps, said the Army Corps won't make a decision on whether to issue permits until all feedback from the hearing and the public comment period is reviewed and the study is complete.

"Then we evaluate the comments to see if things need to be changed with plans," Ms. Cronin said. "Then we go to the final EIS, which has another 30-day public comment period, and a few months for us to analyze public comments, then we go to the final draft."

Supporters of the 6.7-mile toll road, which would link Route 1 at Ridge Road with the N.J. Turnpike at Exit 8A, view the draft EIS as an answer to "many of the questions and myths" that have been circulated by the roadway.

"There should be no further question that Route 92 is a necessary and an environmentally appropriate way to get through traffic, particularly trucks, off our local roads, making our towns safer," Peter Cantu, mayor of Plainsboro and a member of the 92 Now coalition, said in a press release Tuesday. "Anyone who takes the time to read this document will see that the opposition to this road is rooted in misinformation. The Army Corps has done an excellent job of telling the true story about Route 92."

Pam Hersh, director of community and state affairs at Princeton University, which supports the highway, said she scanned the study's executive summary and would still like to see Route 92 be built.

"We hope that it's done in the most environmentally responsible fashion," Ms. Hersh said. "It strikes me that (the study) said that Route 92 brings relief and its alignment is in best location and that it makes sense. It's made sense for 60 years."

Ms. Hersh said a new east-west connector will not mean more cars.

"The fact that (Route 92) is going to bring more cars is just fallacious," Ms. Hersh said. "With the appropriate zoning, it's not going to bring anymore cars."

Officials from Princeton Forrestal Center, the development arm of Princeton University, and the Regional Planning Partnership, formerly known as the MSM Regional Council, did not return calls Wednesday. The two groups are part of the 92 Now coalition.

Statewide and regional environmental groups say Route 92 is not needed and will damage the environment. They said they plan to express their views at the upcoming public hearing.

Doug O'Malley, a spokesperson for NJ Public Interest Research Group, a consumer and environmental group, said that the Army Corps overlooked the environmental impacts, which is due partly to the political pressure to build this road.

"This is an issue kind of like a dragon that can't be slayed," he said. "It's an old 1970s strategy of pave first and ask questions later. In New Jersey, the solution is not to build new roads. We need to be focusing money on repairing roads we have."

Tyler Burke, spokesperson for Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a group that supports transportation alternatives and believes transportation money should go to fixing existing roads and not to new roadways, said the proposed toll road will eventually become a test for Gov. James McGreevey and his commitment to curbing sprawl statewide.

"We're reviewing the draft and we're going to be giving an evaluation on it later," Mr. Burke said. "This is ultimately the governor's decision and it'll test his commitment to his own anti-sprawl policy. We hope this will put a swift end to the road."

Laura Lynch, the conservation chairperson with NJ Sierra, said her group is still opposed to Route 92. Ms. Lynch said she was reviewing the DEIS and would wait to comment on it.

Ms. Lynch said that so far, Route 92 seems like a "Band-Aid for a gaping wound."