Transit group counters draft EIS

By: Matthew Kirdahy , Staff Writer     
South Brunswick Post, 05/13/2004

Issues own rebuttal report

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is challenging the need for Route 92.

It says a traffic study included in the Army Corps of Engineers' draft Environmental Impact Statement still does not show a need for Route 92.

The 6.7-mile toll road would connect Route 1 at Ridge Road in South Brunswick with the Turnpike at Exit 8A. The Turnpike Authority, along with proponents of the highway, say the proposed road would alleviate traffic problems on the roads called local and secondary east-west roads in the study. These roads include Route 571, Cranbury Neck Road/Route 615, Route 614/Plainsboro Road, Scudders Mill Road/Dey Road and Route 522/Ridge Road.

The Army Corps released its draft EIS April 21. The study looked at traffic and environmental impacts the road would have. According to the EIS, Route 92 will take traffic off local and secondary east-west connector roads. The report shows that the highway would improve wait time at four township intersections, and have no effect on 10 intersection. The Corps will host a public hearing on the draft EIS May 20 at the Raddisson on Route 1 in South Brunswick.

However, Tri-State — a group of environmental and planning groups that support transportation alternatives and says money should go to fixing existing roads — said Wednesday in a press release that two studies conducted by independent agencies hired by the government show that there will be little demand for Route 92 and that the new toll road would attract few cars and trucks.

The Army Corps based its Route 92 study on transportation and traffic issues in three towns in southwestern Middlesex County and two towns in northeastern Mercer County. The study area was bounded by the N.J. Turnpike in the east, Route 27 and the Delaware and Raritan canal to the west, Route 610/Deans Lane to the north and Route 571 in the South. The area included South Brunswick, Plainsboro and Cranbury townships in Middlesex, and West Windsor and East Windsor townships and Hightstown in Mercer.

According to Tri-State, a recent review of two earlier traffic studies shows that the new highway will not meet any pressing transportation needs. Tri-State reviewed traffic demand findings for Route 92 from a 1997 Environmental Partners report solicited by the state Department of Environmental Protection and a 1998 report prepared by Hagler Bailly, Inc., a firm hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Tri-State said the DEP report found that the Turnpike Authority did not demonstrate that there was a demand for the construction of Route 92. The traffic data the DEP's consultant relied on was submitted by the Turnpike Authority in its Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit Application, Tri-state says. According to the report, the DEP under Gov. Christie Todd Whitman "did not release that consultant's report and instead issued environmental permits to allow it to proceed."

In the press release, Tri-State said the Hagler Bailly report showed similar results.

"The Route 92 potential market is only 18 percent of all trips with either an origin or a destination in the study area," the report said. "Route 92 will only remove 9 percent of all internal-external and 9 percent of the external-internal trips from east-west local roads."

Tri-State says the EPA report concluded that Route 92 would remove just 3,309 daily through-trips from the local east-west roads, representing 5 to 7 percent of all the current through-trips using local east-west roads. The draft EIS does not show this conclusion or even present an overview of the traffic data it contains, according to Tri-state.

Tri-State says an east-west connector like Route 92 would only serve a small segment of the area's trips.

"North-south demand is far strong," Tri-State said in the press release. "East-west traffic issues can be addressed by a series of low-cost bottleneck elimination projects to the existing roadway network."

The Army Corps EIS notes that the main highways that pass through the study area run north-south. The highways include the N.J. Turnpike, with interchanges at Exits 8 and 8A along the study area's eastern edge, Route 130, Route 1 and Route 27. Route 32 connects between Route 130 with the Turnpike Exit 8A.

In addition, the EIS said the major peak hour traffic lows in the traffic study area are the north-south flows along the N.J. Turnpike, Route 1 and Route 130. The study did not say what times the peak hours are.

The study says that north-south travelers frequently use these local and secondary east-west roads in an effort to bypass congestion on Route 1 in North Brunswick. The study says these roads are serving traffic that they were not designed to serve.

Some of the traffic numbers are then compared to traffic numbers the report says would exist if Route 92 is not built, and existing roads remain as they are. According to the EIS, local and secondary east-west roads that have become clogged on peak hours were used as a basis for traffic flow times in the study. The peak hours include a two-and-a-half-hour period in the morning and a three-hour period at night.

The study uses computer models that track vehicles traveling at a "free-flow" speed, the speed at which traffic can operate if unhindered by surrounding traffic.

The EIS says the construction of Route 92 would result in a 17 percent reduction in peak-hour truck volume on the local and secondary east-west roads in the traffic study area and along Route 27 in Kingston

Peak-hour travel times are projected to decrease by an average of 10 percent if Route 92 is built, the report said. Travel times between Route 1 in Plainsboro and N.J. Turnpike Exit 8A are expected to improve by about 30 percent, the report says.

The engineers who conducted the study for this portion of the EIS used an industry standard 20 years after the time the toll road would be built. Assuming the road is completed by 2008, all of the traffic numbers are measured between 2001 and 2028.

By the year 2028, morning westbound peak hour travel demand in the study area is projected to exceed the capacity of east-west roads by 25 percent.

A peak-hour "network model" of the area developed for the study shows that the capacity of Plainsboro Road will be exceeded by 120 percent and that the capacity of Cranbury Neck Road will be exceeded by 84 percent. The effects would mean stretches of bumper-to-bumper traffic, extensive delays and blocked driveways and intersections.

For example, the amount of time it takes drivers to travel from the intersection of Route 130 and Dey Road to the intersection of Route 1 and Washington Road during peak hours is projected to be double, from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Area-wide, morning peak hour travel times are expected to increase by about 50 percent. Almost all intersections in the area will be unable to process peak hour demand in the future without significant delays, according to the report.

The study says it would take a motorist 49.7 minutes during morning peak hours to get from the center of South Brunswick — along Route 522 in the vicinity of Kingston Lane — to Princeton Junction along Route 571 in the vicinity of the Northeast Corridor Rail Line. The same trip took 28.5 minutes in 2001, according to the traffic model. The same trip that took 27 minutes during evening peak hours in 2001 and would take 36.3 minutes by 2028.

According to the study, delays at intersections in the study area are expected to increase a median 85 percent by 2028. That includes a increase in travel time at the intersection of Route 27 and Raymond Road in Kingston from 10 seconds during morning peak hours in 2001 to just under 3 minutes, 70 seconds, during morning peak hours in 2028.

The study also shows that three intersections in South Brunswick would have a decrease in wait time during morning peak hours by 2028. The intersection of Route 1 and Major and Sand Hills roads showed a decrease in wait time from about 4½ minutes, 259 seconds, to 3 minutes and 18 seconds by 2028.

The intersection of Route 522 and Kingston Road had a 5 minute 23 second wait in 2001, and is expected to decrease to 5 minutes by 2028, according to the study. The intersection of Route 1 and Route 522 will go from about 11 minutes and 43 seconds in 2001 during morning peak hours to about 8 minutes and 26 seconds.

The Army Corps also graded intersections in the study, with crossings with getting grades on a letter scale, from A to F. The grades indicate the intersections' level of service, or LOS. LOS is based on the average delay per vehicle for criteria that includes speed, travel time, maneuverability and safety at each intersection. A road that has received an F, has reached its capacity, traffic flow is interrupted, maneuverability is restricted and significant traffic exists.

The Army Corps compares the current status of intersections like Route 27 and Raymond Road and Route 1 and Major and Sand Hills roads with conditions in 2028.

According to the report, the intersection of Route 27 and Raymond Road received an F for morning traveling, and a B for evening peak hours. If Route 92 is built, the intersection would remain an F for morning peak hours and drops from B to E during evening peak hours.

The intersections of Route 27 and Route 522, and Route 1 and Major and Sand Hills roads, Plainsboro Road and Route 535 and Georges and Kingston roads all showed improvement with Route 92.

The study says another expected impact of constructing Route 92 is that trucks traveling between N.J. Turnpike Exit 8A and Princeton could find it easier to use Ridge Road between Route 27 and Route 1 in combination with Route 92. The report estimates that during each peak hour, an additional 20 trucks would use this portion of Ridge Road compared if Route 92 is built.

The study says that on average, trucks comprise more than 5 percent of the total traffic using east-west local and secondary roads. One in five of these trucks are using local roads to travel through the towns the roads serve, without servicing the towns. The report said it would be good to get these trucks on to nonlocal routes. Without any changes in the traffic network, future increases in truck volumes on local east-west roads are predicted to increase by approximately 35 percent.