North-South Brunswick Sentinel, Dec. 21, 2006
South Brunswick Post, December 7, 2006
Home News Tribune, December 5, 2006
South Brunswick Post, November 30, 2006
Princeton Packet, Nov. 21, 2006
South Brunswick Post, Oct. 12, 2006
South Brunswick Post, Dec. 1, 2005
South Brunswick Post, July 21, 2005
South Brunswick Post, March 3, 2005
Trenton Times, December 5, 2004
Star-Ledger, December 2, 2004
South Brunswick Post, December 2, 2004
South Brunswick Post, October 14, 2004
Star-Ledger, July 21, 2004
South Brunswick Sentinel, May 27, 2004
Home News Tribune, May 25, 2004
South Brunswick Post, May 13, 2004
Cranbury Press, May 7, 2004
South Brunswick Post, April 29, 2004
North-South Brunswick Sentinel, April 29, 2004
Home News, April 25, 2004

(Reproduced for educational purposes only. Copyrights by the cited sources except as noted.)

Time for Route 92 to go away for good
North-South Brunswick Sentinel, December 21, 2006

We’ve heard "Route 92 is dead" before, but we hope in the name of common sense that this time it stays that way. Over the past few years, the proposed highway, a 6.7-mile toll road that would have connected the New Jersey Turnpike from Exit 8A to Route 1 near Kingston, has been "killed" only to come back like the villain in a horror movie. But this latest comeback was the most bizarre.

Who was pushing for it? Certainly not South Brunswick, which would have absorbed most of the brunt of this project. Not your local legislators, who were not working to move it ahead, if not actively opposing it. In District 14, both Republican Assemblyman Bill Baroni and Democrat Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein campaigned against it in their 2005 re-elections.

Still, despite being defunded of $175 million in 2005 by the Turnpike Authority, here it was again a few weeks ago, this time in the form of a 2,000-page Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact study released in November. South Brunswick and other area officials jumped all over it and apparently knocked it out for good

In a letter dated Dec. 1, Turnpike Authority Executive Director Michael Lappolla asked N.J. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson to consider all applications for Route 92 withdrawn, and the project canceled. But it feels like we’ve heard it before.

Enough is enough. This highway has little public support. It would theoretically do some good, but not near enough to justify its substantial costs, both fiscal, environmental and in sprawl. Let’s hope this time, it really is the end of the road for Route 92.

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Route 92 still needs death blow

More steps to be taken toward eliminating Route 92 prospect
South Brunswick Post, December 7, 2006

N.J. Turnpike Executive Director Michael Lapolla has finally uttered the magic words.

In a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection dated Dec. 1, Mr. Lapolla writes that "we have decided to cancel the Route 92 project" and "consider all applications pending or on record with the DEP as withdrawn."

Those are the words that South Brunswick residents and environmental groups around the state have been waiting to hear for a long time.

"This is what we've been waiting for, for the past 14 years," South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese said Monday. "Not only has the road been de-funded, the Turnpike is saying, now, not to build the road."

So, seemingly, years of debate have come to an end. The proposed 6.7-mile toll highway, which hung like the Sword of Damocles above southern Middlesex County, is officially a dead end.

Or it seems that way. From our perspective, the highway is on the mat, but the referee has only counted to eight -- the Turnpike has stripped the project of its funding and canceled the permit process, but the road remains on the books, leaving open the possibility that it could rise to its feet again.

That is the singular lesson we should take from the long history of this pipe dream. Over the last 70 years, the project we now know as Route 92 has taken many forms and has wended its way along many different paths.

The road was conceived by the state Department of Transportation as an east-west link between Route 31 in Clinton and Route 33 in Freehold, a way of connecting the Shore area with the northwestern corner of the state. But political opposition, new environmental rules and the changing needs of the region led to various alterations and reconfigurations -- the section between Routes 206 and 31 was dropped; later, the highway's eastern terminus was shifted to the north when Route 133 (the Hightstown Bypass) was approved, first through Plainsboro and later through South Brunswick to Exit 8A, while at the same time political opposition canceled the section between Routes 206 and 27.

All of this occurred before 1991, when the state Legislature approved a bill -- introduced by then-Assemblyman Peter Cantu, the Democratic mayor of Plainsboro -- handing control of the road to the N.J. Turnpike Authority. The legislation created new momentum for the road, which was shortened in the early 1990s to its most recent 6.7-mile incarnation due to environmental concerns about the stretch between Routes 1 and 27, and various municipal governments and environmental, business and labor organizations have been battling ever since.

It is this 15-year-old legislation that leaves open the possibility that the fight is not over, that supporters of the highway may have a couple of good punches left in them.

That's why opponents need to continue punching, pushing the state Legislature to approve legislation introduced several years ago by Assemblyman Bill Baroni and state Sen. Peter Inverso, Republicans who represent South Brunswick. The legislation, bills A685 and S883 -- reintroduced earlier this year, but dormant -- would strip the Turnpike Authority of its "authorization to build the Route 92," making Friday's cancellation of the road permanent.

Getting the bills through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jon Corzine would be the uppercut to the jaw we've been waiting for, the kind of blow that would end the fight once and for all.

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Scrapping Route 92 benefits Turnpike riders
Home News Tribune Online 12/5/06

Great news. The N.J. Turnpike Authority has officially scrapped its long-running plans to build Route 92, the east-west highway that would have connected the Turnpike with Route 1 but also would have carved up some of the Middlesex County's most fragile acreage; would have overrun South Brunswick's historic villages of Kingston and Dayton, and would have accelerated commercial development along already congested Route 1, benefiting corporate landholders and builders almost exclusively. Instead, the Turnpike Authority has opted to pursue a far more affordable and sensible plan: the widening of the Turnpike between interchanges 6 and 9.

Route 92 never made sense, environmentally or economically. As one consultant to South Brunswick put it several years back, Route 92 was never anything more than "asphalt in search of a purpose" — a purpose, it turns out, that not even Turnpike Authority planners could pin down.

So the estimated $600 million to $700 million that Route 92 would have cost will be saved, and the state will put some of those dollars toward improvements to the existing toll road along a stretch of Turnpike that is heavily traveled and sorely in need of expansion.

A better outcome could not have been imagined.

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FROM THE MAYOR'S DESK by Mayor Frank Gambatese:
Township still opposed to Rt. 92
By: Frank Gambatese, Mayor
South Brunswick Post, 11/30/2006
(Also appearing in the North-South Brunswick Sentinel, 11/30/2006)

There have been a number of articles and letters to the editor related to the recent release by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding Route 92.

Most disturbing are letters from other communities that support the proposed roadway and comments made by an elected official in Hopewell saying that South Brunswick has softened its stand against Route 92.

Everyone has a right to speak up and take a stand, but this comment could not be further from the truth.

On behalf of my colleagues on the Township Council, I want to send our own clear message to all those who live in South Brunswick and to our neighboring communities: No Route 92!

We are amazed at positions many have taken regarding this roadway. So many have said so much but, when it comes right down to it, this matter affects South Brunswick most dramatically. It starts in South Brunswick, travels through South Brunswick and ends in South Brunswick.

We will have the traffic, noise and environmental damage.

We have led the charge to stop this damaging roadway. We have paid tens of thousands of dollars to stop this project. We have spent hundreds of hours, personally, professionally and through staff to stop this project.

We certainly appreciate the efforts of some of our neighboring communities to assist us and to put forth their own efforts to stop this roadway.

We are equally chagrined by efforts of other neighboring communities to encourage this roadway, foisting its damaging effects squarely upon the residents of South Brunswick.

Let me say again, we stand firm: No Route 92!

Moreover, we are amazed by the Final Environment Impact Statement that the US Army Corps has issued. After years of study the Corps offers no opinion on whether Route 92 should proceed; the FEIS provides no basis for issuing the required permits (which would allow the roadway to be built); and suggests that the issue be studied further. This milquetoast conclusion comes at the end of a 2,700-plus-page FEIS.

We have sent a strong letter responding to the FEIS that restates our opposition and addresses a number of detailed flaws in the statement. The bottom line is that the FEIS leaves us in limbo.

As with any project, nothing gets done without money. Fortunately, Gov. Richard Codey de-funded this roadway. While that gives us hope that it will not be considered anymore, we must continue to monitor developments.

As mayor, I have spoken to Gov. Jon Corzine and urged him to not build Route 92; I will tell him this every time I see him. The position of the governor is most important, because without his support the project will not proceed — with or without the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consent.

We thank Gov. Corzine for his understanding of the extreme negative impact of this unnecessary roadway.

On behalf of the Township Council, I restate our commitment to continue to follow any and all issues related to Route 92. We will oppose it in every manner that we can.

Our position is clear: No Route 92.

Frank Gambatese is the mayor of South Brunswick. His e-mail is

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Route 92: Global warming close to home
By: Mark Peel
Princeton Packet, 11/21/2006


 Anyone looking for encouraging signs that policymakers are ready to get serious about climate change can only be depressed by the Nov. 14 letter — co-signed by the mayors of Plainsboro, West Windsor, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, among others — endorsing the Army Corps of Engineers' Final Environmental Impact Statement for Route 92.

Environmentally, Route 92 is a disaster. But developers, including Princeton University, want it built. This is why the environmental movement is doomed to fail — because even the good guys lack the courage or vision to put sound environmental policy ahead of profit.

The notion that we can relieve traffic congestion by building more roads is now thoroughly discredited. It's impossible to attend a transportation forum without hearing a chorus of planners intone, "We can't build our way out of this problem." We need only look north to see what Route 92 will do to central New Jersey. In his biography of Robert Moses, "The Power Broker," historian Robert Caro traced the pattern of sprawl and congestion repeatedly induced by Moses' gargantuan highway projects. At the ribbon-cutting for the Grand Central Parkway, politicians and the press praised the new highway, saying it would solve the problem of access to Long Island "for generations." But the Grand Central Parkway solved the problem only for about three weeks; then it was the site of what the Herald Tribune called the greatest traffic tie-up in the history of the metropolitan area. This was in 1936, and one can argue that this traffic jam has persisted without interruption for 70 years.

Moses' answer was that more highways were needed, and a succession of freeways eventually encircled New York and Long Island like choking vines, all jammed to capacity within months of opening. Like Route 92, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge was supposed to relieve congestion by allowing motorists to get to Long Island without using the Triborough, which had become impossibly clogged. In its first year, the Bronx-Whitestone carried 6.3 million vehicles. But experts calculated it had reduced traffic on the Triborough by only 122,000 vehicles. Somehow the bridge had generated 6 million additional trips: it had not improved traffic at all — it had made it worse.

New Jersey needs transportation solutions, not more roads. Automobiles are choking the life out of our state. Traffic is impossible because there are too many cars making too many trips covering too many miles. When Route 92 was resuscitated in 1998, the top-selling car in America was the Toyota Camry; it averaged 22 miles per gallon and emitted 8.6 tons of greenhouse gas in an average year. Today, the best-selling Ford Explorer consumes 33 percent more fuel than the Camry and produces 28 percent more carbon dioxide — 11 tons per vehicle per year. A transportation strategy that caters to bigger, dirtier personal vehicles making longer commutes is not a strategy at all — it is a suicide pact.

Is it sound planning to pave over wetlands and sacrifice historic villages so that commuters in gas-guzzling SUVs don't have to be inconvenienced? Sane transportation policy would discourage people from driving long distances to work and would help localities recover the true cost of single-occupant automobiles in the form of commuter taxes and fees on fuel consumption, emissions, distance traveled and vehicle size and type. Real solutions, though, take imagination, courage, and wisdom. There isn't much of that in evidence in the plans for Route 92 or in our leaders.

Mark Peel is president of Civic Research Institute in South Brunswick.

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EDITORIAL: Don't rest until job is finished
South Brunswick Post, 10/12/2006

Stay the course on support for Baroni's bill

Opponents of Route 92 have every right to feel like the Detroit Tigers.

Faced with the seemingly impossible task of knocking off the best team that money could buy, the Tigers' team of young unknowns refused to back down, outworking the Yankees and advancing to the next round of the baseball playoffs.

Route 92 opponents -- essentially a rag-tag collection of municipal governments, environmental groups and residents from South Brunswick, Franklin and Plainsboro -- were in a similar position. Arrayed against them were land developers, the construction trade unions, planning groups and municipal and county governments. Supporters had the money to bring in a public relations firm, conduct polling, send out mass mailings and run television and newspaper ads extolling the road's virtues. But in the end, it appears, the underdog has won.

No one will say this, of course. Instead, we have the federal Army Corps of Engineers issuing a final Environmental Impact Statement on the road without a recommendation -- a move that Corps watchers say is unheard of. And we have the N.J. Turnpike Authority -- an agency that had been adamant in its desire to get the road built -- saying it is not a priority, apparently willing to let it fade away.

That's fantastic news -- for now. It is important to remember, however, that these projects have a tendency to rise from the dead, so it is imperative to do everything possible to finish the job.

That means staying vigilant and convincing the state Legislature to pass Assemblyman Bill Baroni's bill, which would take the road away from the Turnpike and drive a stake into the road's heart.

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Turnpike takes first step to kill Route 92
Editorial, South Brunswick Post, Dec. 1, 2005

It's not dead, but it certainly is on life-support.

And for those of us in South Brunswick, that's pretty good news.

The N.J. Turnpike Authority has effectively ended its pursuit of the long-discussed boondoggle known as Route 92, taking $175 million of the $181.5 million set aside for the road and shifting its resources to the widening of the turnpike.

While the Turnpike Authority's Tuesday vote does not officially kill the project -- it still could come up with money at a later date -- it does send a clear signal that it finds other priorities more pressing.

We couldn't agree more.

In many ways, the credit for this change of direction must go to Acting-Gov. Richard Codey. He got the ball rolling Dec. 1 of last year when he placed the much-needed widening plan on the table. The plan -- designed to ease bottlenecking for southbound traffic at Exit 8A -- calls for adding one lane in both directions between Exit 8A and Exit 6, where the turnpike connects with the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Gov. Codey reasoned -- correctly, we believe -- that more lanes will make the turnpike a more attractive option for drivers, easing traffic throughout the region.

The big question at the time, however, was how the Turnpike Authority planned to pay for the widening. No one was willing to place a price tag on the project, though estimates in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion were being floated. That, of course, is a lot of cash, especially for a cash-strapped agency like the Turnpike Authority.

So, how do you pay for it? The answer -- in addition to the inevitable increase in tolls -- is to eliminate expensive and unnecessary projects. And there are few projects more unnecessary than the proposed 6.7-mile Route 92 spur.

So Tuesday's vote seems like a no-brainer.

And yet, while the Turnpike Authority has changed course for now on Route 92, it hasn't pulled the plug. South Brunswick residents, regional environmentalists and others in communities to the west of the proposed highway need to keep the pressure on. As we have argued repeatedly over the last 10 years or so, Route 92 would offer South Brunswick and the region few real benefits, would wreak havoc on the village of Kingston and towns to the west and could cost upwards of $500 million -- an absurd amount of cash for what we believe is a private driveway into the Forrestal office complex in Plainsboro.

And we hope that state Sen. Peter Inverso and Assembly members Bill Baroni, who has been a staunch opponent of the highway, and Linda Greenstein, who came out against the highway during her recent campaign, will reintroduce legislation stripping the Turnpike Authority of its authorization to build Route 92 and follow it up with legislation killing it altogether.

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Let's call this drama 'Waiting for Rt. 92'
South Brunswick Post, 07/21/2005

The long-awaited Route 92 is set to make an appearance any day now, maybe.

"On the other hand what's the good of losing heart now, that's what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the '90s." -- Vladimir in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot."

The rumor is that the federal Army Corps of Engineers will issue its long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement on Route 92 before the end of the summer.

OK. Perhaps, it's not a rumor. Richard Tomer, chief of the Regulatory Branch of the Army Corps of Engineers, said Tuesday that the agency is expected to issue its final, official EIS by the end of the summer.

And yet, it certainly feels like a rumor. That's because we've heard often in the past that the mythical EIS would appear, only to be left like Vladimir and Estragon, sitting on our metaphorical park bench waiting for Godot to arrive.

"Waiting for Godot" may seem like an esoteric analogy here, one hatched in the brain of a former English major who refuses to let go of his obsession with high literature. The Route 92 EIS, after all, is real, or so we think, and Godot -- well, we just can't be too sure.

In the play, Godot never arrives and Vladimir and Estragon are left to spend their days in endless conversation and speculation -- which is how most of us who have followed the Route 92 saga feel.

Think about it. Route 92 has been on the books in some form or another for close to 70 years and we appear to be no closer to its construction than we were back when it was initially slated to run from Route 31 to Route 33 in Freehold.

Over the years, the highway has changed shape and direction. The portion between Route 206 and the Clinton area was dropped from the proposal and then the eastern terminus was moved to Hightstown, where it was to link with the N.J. Turnpike.

At some point during the 1980s, Plainsboro officials convinced the state Department of Transportation to reroute Route 92 to Exit 8A. The Exit 8 portion eventually was built as the Hightstown Bypass, which connects Route 571 in East Windsor with Route 33 just east of the turnpike.

Then the portion between Route 27 and Route 206 was nixed, at the insistence of the two Princetons, and the highway was handed off to the Turnpike Authority. That was in 1991.

The Turnpike Authority held a series of hearings in 1994 and 1995, settling on the current 6.7-mile alignment linking Route 1 near Ridge Road with 8A. The federal Environmental Protection Agency denied the Turnpike Authority's permit request in 1998, at about the same time that the state Department of Environmental Protection approved permits. The disagreement meant that the permit question would be dumped in the Army Corps' lap, where it has resided for nearly seven years.

Perhaps, we've finally come to the end of the saga. Perhaps, the Army Corps will issue its EIS and make a recommendation on the fate of the four-lane, limited-access roadway, letting both sides in the debate know exactly where they stand.

Somehow, I doubt it. Even if the EIS is issued, its results are likely to engender loud protests from the folks who come out on the losing side. Supporters are not likely to let the road die even if that is what the EIS recommends, and I can assure you that opponents -- like most of South Brunswick -- will not go quietly if the EIS gives the highway a thumbs up.

It is in this way that the long tale of Route 92 most resembles Beckett's classic play, which is really about the need to keep the conversation alive, to keep talking in the face of uncertainty. Route 92 almost seems an exercise in existential angst, where false hope, fear and bureaucratic inertia have collided. For supporters, the road appears as a magic potion, when in reality it is nothing more than a medicine-show elixir. For opponents, it hangs like the Sword of Damocles, a permanent threat.

And so the dark comedy that is the saga of Route 92 will likely continue, with all of us -- opponents and supporters alike -- stranded on a park bench waiting for the end to arrive.

Hank Kalet is managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. Is e-mail is hkalet@pacpub.com.

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Roundtable may not be Route 92 remedy

South Brunswick Post, March 3, 2005

No matter how effective roundtable may be, not all sides will win.

We may be entering a new stage in the debate over Route 92.

But there is no guarantee that it will lead to the desired solution.

The mayors of South Brunswick, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township say they are willing to embark on a collaborative process that could alter the final shape the proposed toll road might take. The idea is to bring all the stakeholders together to review the environmental and traffic implications of building a four-lane N.J. Turnpike spur from Exit 8A to Route 1 near Ridge Road.

The mechanism would be similar to the one used by the state Department of Transportation to come up with an alternative to the controversial Millstone Bypass, which would have run from Harrison Street in Princeton Township along the Millstone River before swinging south and connecting with Route 571 just beyond the Northeast Corridor rail tracks.

Officials in West Windsor had been pushing the 2.3-mile bypass plan for years -- I remember writing about it when I covered West Windsor as a reporter in 1993 and 1994 -- as something that would take a significant amount of traffic off an overburdened Washington Road. The bypass had been endorsed by Princeton University.

Environmental groups and residents and elected officials from the Princetons had a different take on the road, however. Environmentalists, such as the Sierra Club, believed that a road built so close to the Millstone was an environmental nightmare waiting to happen, while the folks from Princeton were concerned that such a connector would devastate residential neighborhoods on and around Harrison Street.

So a so-called roundtable was convened in 2001, tied to a study by the Rutgers University Voorhees Transportation Policy Institute, and nearly three years later an alternative to the bypass was born. The alternative is much smaller in scope, cheaper and preserves the neighborhoods closest to Route 1.

The Princetons were happy with the final plan, as was the Sierra Club.

Officials in West Windsor, however, were not.

And that is the key point. As effective as a roundtable approach like the one used to settle the bypass debate may seem, there inevitably will be some winners and some losers. And the losers are never happy.

That is something that members of the South Brunswick and Franklin township councils need to remember before embarking on what they hope will be a process that will put a fatal stake in the heart of Route 92.

I should say here that I think a roundtable discussion could lead to some interesting alternatives, especially if groups like the Sierra Club, the Tri-State Transportation Committee and the NJ Public Interest Research Group are given a seat at the table. The environmentalists bring to the discussion something that Trenton bureaucrats and local politicians do not -- a broader interest in preserving the environment, rather than protecting their own turf, and they help balance the various bureaucratic and business interests who have come out in favor of the road.

However, before the roundtable approach can work, the participants have to be willing to put nearly everything on the table, something I just don't see happening. Both sides have taken a hard line on the issue for so long that it seems unlikely that either can be convinced to compromise.

My sense, of course, is that the pro-Route 92 alliance deserves a great deal of the blame for this. The government of Plainsboro, in the person of Mayor Peter Cantu (make no mistake, it is his call), has declared that if Route 92 is not built, Plainsboro will become a parking lot in the not-too-distant future. He has ignored the concerns of some of his own residents and seems willing to damage the Plainsboro Preserve to get the highway built.

The folks at Princeton Forrestal -- the land development arm of Princeton University -- are only concerned about dollars, and the highway and its interchange at Perrine Road will mean higher land values in Forrestal's Plainsboro corporate park.

That said, the folks in South Brunswick have been digging in their heels, as well. I just happen to think that people like Cathy Dowgin, who lives near where the highway would be built, and Jean Starks, who lives in the village of Kingston and will have to deal with the explosion of traffic there, have better arguments on their side.

Perhaps the folks in the two Princetons can be convinced that the road offers little or no benefit to the region, or that the benefit is outweighed by the damage it will do. The comments made by Borough Mayor Joe O'Neill to Post staff writer Joseph Harvie can be read either way.

He favors a roundtable, but is concerned about trucks "radiating" out from Exit 8A of the Turnpike. He thinks Route 92 will do the trick (though why he thinks Route 92 will keep trucks out of Princeton is beyond me), but he is willing to listen to any suggestion that "routes interstate traffic away from the towns."

That, of course, is what everyone wants.

So, by all means, sit down at the table and talk about the issues surrounding the highway, just don't pretend that the folks involved will have an epiphany and suddenly announce that Route 92 should die a horrible death.

Hank Kalet is managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. His e-mail is hkalet@pacpub.com.

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Widen the Turnpike

Trenton Times, 12/5/04

A vast amount of time, fuel, and peace of mind are squandered every day on the New Jersey Turnpike, where vehicle backups caused by the reduction in pavement width from five lanes to three at Exit 8a in Monroe can extend for miles. The spillover effect is felt on Route 1 and other Central Jersey roads to which drivers switch to avoid the Turnpike choke point.

In another decade, conditions will be far worse, once normal traffic growth has been compounded by the completion in 2011 of Pennsylvania's plan to link I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bristol. The latter move is necessary, but it's one that will funnel thousands of additional cars and trucks onto the New Jersey Turnpike at Exit 6 in Burlington County.

For these reasons, New Jerseyans should applaud Acting Gov. Richard Codey's plan to widen the New Jersey Turnpike through the 20-mile-long stretch between Exit 8A and Exit 6. As the acting governor says, doing nothing will result in "virtual gridlock" on the Turnpike after the Pennsylvania connection is completed. Too often, there's actual gridlock there now.

It seems disingenuous, though, for Gov. Codey and state Department of Transportation officials to say that the question of how to finance the project is still unsettled. "The issue of whether or not you need a toll hike: Maybe five years out," Gov. Codey told South Jersey business leaders Wednesday. Whether or not? Of course a toll hike will be needed. How else can New Jersey pay for a project that could cost more than $1 billion? Even if New Jersey were the reddest of the red states instead of the bluest of the blue, the feds aren't likely to cough up any new money for toll roads. As for the state's own Transportation Trust Fund, it's broke and needs an infusion of cash -- the sooner the elected officials find the intestinal fortitude to increase the gasoline tax, the better -- to pay for a truckful of other needed highway, bridge and mass transit needs in this most densely packed of states.

There's one stash of money available for widening, however, and state officials should seriously consider using it. It's the $250 million the Turnpike Authority has reserved to build ROute 92, its planned east-west link across lower Middlesex County from Exit 8A to Route 1. Route 92 is the vestigal remnant of the so-called Princeton Bypass that once was proposed to connect the Turnpike to Route 206. To say that the remaining spur is controversial is an understatement; environmentalists, local officials, and residents along its path have fought the idea for years. Meanwhile, its supporters have been unable to make a convincing case that the road is needed, or that it will not have the collateral effect of increasing the traffic load on Route 1.

 Early next year, the state will launch an 18-month study at a cost of $8 million to $10 million to determine how the work should proceed, how much it might cost, how it should be financed and how long the job might take. Once this is completed, and the environmental impact studies are made, the amount and timing of the toll increase can be determined. Assuming that the rates are set to realistically cover the construction costs, the increase will be a bargain -- just as a gasoline tax hike, when it comes, to keep cars, trucks, trains and buses moving will be a bargain. In New Jersey, as transportation goes, so goes the economy.

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Turnpike cornucopia

Star-Ledger, Thursday, December 02, 2004

The end times must be upon us. How else to explain the extraordinary  reaction to the proposed massive New Jersey Turnpike widening, the $1.2  billion price of which will undoubtedly be paid by drivers through a  future toll hike?

The National Motorists Association isn't fond of fare increases, but it  doesn't mind this project. Mass transit advocates who make a living  dissing road construction are supportive. Even the head of the state  chapter of the Sierra Club says it's "good for the region ... good for  mobility."

Bizarre but perhaps not a portent of the end of the world. Perhaps it's  an omen of something almost as singular: a huge new highway project that  seems to have something for everyone.

Commuters gain because widening the Turnpike's six lanes for the 20  miles between Interchange 8A in Monroe Township and Interchange 6 in  Burlington County would ease miserable congestion and accommodate a  traffic surge expected in a few years. That is when Pennsylvania will  complete road work that will dump many more cars and trucks through  Interchange 6.

Avoiding Turnpike gridlock will go a long way toward keeping the region  and its economy moving, but there is more.

The widening will create thousands of jobs. It could suck up $250  million the Turnpike has stashed away for Route 92, a proposed east-west  highway through Middlesex County long loathed by residents and  environmentalists.

And the widening will take so long -- a couple of years to study and  design, four or five to build -- that acting Gov. Richard Codey need not  worry about asking motorists to dig deeper into their pockets anytime  soon. Those of a more Machiavellian bent might also note that ditching  Route 92 would coincidentally irritate a gaggle of Central Jersey  Democrats closely aligned with John Lynch; he and the acting governor  haven't always been the best of friends.

Cynicism aside, the widening project is a smart move on the  transportation and economic merits,and the extensive study and design  period means there will be plenty of time to identify and deal with any  flaws that might appear. Codey was instrumental in moving the idea  forward, and he deserves credit. Now he and Turnpike Authority  commissioners should follow the enviros' advice and redirect the Route  92 money.

That controversial road's paltry predicted traffic benefits aren't worth  its $400 million price tag, its destruction of open space and wetlands,  and the years of inevitable legal challenges. Meanwhile, the money  escrowed for Route 92 would significantly help reduce the toll hike  needed to pay for the widening.

Codey and transportation planners can do another thing to maximize the  widening's benefits. They should make sure the Turnpike examines giving  trucks special toll breaks to use expanded lanes between Interchanges 6  and 8A. This could encourage many big rigs to shift from Route 1, easing  congestion there, too.

That would truly be a transportation advance worth boosting.

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EDITORIAL:  Turnpike plan makes sense if funding exists

South Brunswick Post, December 2, 2004

EDITORIAL  Governor and Turnpike Authority should kill Route 92 and use its funding for widening plan.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey unveiled a project Wednesday morning that could have major implications for the region.

At a press conference in Cherry Hill, the governor announced a widening plan for the N.J. Turnpike designed to ease bottlenecking for southbound traffic at Exit 8A. The plan calls for adding one lane in both directions between Exit 8A and Exit 6, where the turnpike connects with the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The idea is to add more lanes to make the turnpike a more attractive option for drivers -- especially truck drivers carrying freight through the state.

On its face, the plan seems logical, especially with the residential and commercial growth that has occurred in southern Middlesex County and points south.

And traffic is likely to get worse once the direct link between the New Jersey and Pennsylvania turnpikes is completed.

But there are several questions that need to be addressed before the state actually starts laying macadam. In particular, the state needs to identify where the money for the project will be coming from.

None of the agencies involved -- the N.J. Turnpike Authority, the state Department of Transportation or the governor's office -- has been willing to attach an exact price tag, but it is clear that this will be a very expensive proposition. A $1.2 billion estimate has been floated off the record, but not confirmed, and the state is planning to conduct an 18-month study, at a cost of $10 million, to look at costs and determine the environmental and traffic impacts of adding lanes.

That's a lot of cash for the Turnpike Authority, an agency that has had fiscal problems in recent years. One possible funding source is raising turnpike tolls, which is likely to be very unpopular. But drivers have to understand that a project of this scope -- and the traffic relief it promises -- will have its cost and drivers have to chip in. There is no way around it.

Another possible funding source would be the elimination of expensive and unnecessary projects -- namely, the proposal to build a 6.7-mile spur from Exit 8A to Route 1. Route 92 is expected to cost in excess of $400 million and up to $500 million, assuming it is approved by the federal Army Corps of Engineers. That's an absurd amount of money for what we believe is a private driveway into the Forrestal office complex in Plainsboro, especially when a free, four-lane highway (Route 522) already exists about a mile and a half from where Route 92 would be built.

The Turnpike Authority already has set aside about $270 million for Route 92, money that would be better spent addressing north-south congestion between Exits 8A and 6 and creating a more comprehensive plan to fix the road problems plaguing the region.

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Chorus in opposition to Rt. 92

South Brunswick Post
Thursday, October 14, 2004

Let's call it a coalition of the unwilling.

The Princeton Environmental Commission has joined the chorus of groups that are raising questions about the wisdom of building a proposed connection between Route 1 and the N.J. Turnpike.

The commission, which has members appointed by both the Princeton Borough Council and the Princeton Township Committee, has asked both the borough and the township to reconsider support for Route 92 because it believes alternatives to the four-lane highway were not fully explored.

The Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the proposed 6.7-mile highway, which is being pushed by the N.J. Turnpike Authority, as part of the environmental permitting process. The Army Corps became involved in the process after the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection disagreed over whether the permits should be issued. The EPA opposes the highway and has criticized the Army Corps' draft environmental impact statement, saying it has not adequately explored all alternatives.

The EPA's concerns apparently have struck a chord with the Princeton Environmental Commission, which cited the EPA's opposition as its main rationale for coming out against the road. It said that Route 522, if a connection to the Turnpike were to be built, could serve as a better alternative. South Brunswick expects to begin construction of an extension of Route 522 that would connect it to Ridge Road near Cranbury Road. Cranbury Road connects directly to the Turnpike at Exit 8A.

The Princeton commission's voice is a welcome addition to the chorus of opposition, which includes towns in Somerset County and northern Mercer County.

The loudest opposition, of course, comes from the folks here in South Brunswick. About six miles of the 6.7-mile stretch will run through the township, with the attendant loss of farmland and wetlands in the township's southeastern corner and an increase in traffic in Kingston.

The dominant role being played by South Brunswick has unfortunately allowed proponents of the road to characterize the opposition as NIMBYs, focused only on their own narrow concerns and ignorant of regional issues.

The Princeton Environmental Commission's recent decision, however, demonstrates that the NIMBY label is, at the very least, misleading. As we've noted here numerous times, opposition to this colossal boondoggle has always been more widespread than its proponents would care to admit. Most of the state's major environmental organizations have come out against the highway, as have several taxpayer groups and the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area.

And towns to the west -- like Franklin (which agreed to pony up some cash last week to fight the highway), the two Hopewells, Montgomery, Rocky Hill and Hillsborough -- are worried about how Route 92 might affect traffic along Route 206 and Route 31, while a vocal group of Plainsboro residents raises questions about whether support by the Township Committee there is really indicative of where the residents of Plainsboro actually stand on the issue.

Adding the Princeton Environmental Commission only further diversifies this list and should give the Army Corps pause as it decides how to proceed.

This is not NIMBY opposition, it is regional and easing traffic incentral New Jersey must acknowledge these voices.

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Route 92 is a dead end

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

 In 1991, backers of a controversial plan to connect Route 1 and the New Jersey Turnpike in southern Middlesex County got a law passed shifting the project from the state Transportation Department, which had no money, to the Turnpike Authority, which had plenty.

 The proposed Route 92 is still controversial and still unbuilt. And given the project's limited traffic benefits, its staggering $400 million cost and its serious environmental impacts, that's what it should remain, at least in its currently proposed form.

 Route 92 would be a four- lane highway running 6.7 miles between the Turnpike's Interchange 8A and Route 1 in South Brunswick Township, with interchanges at Perrine Road and Route 130.

 Supporters say the highway is desperately needed to take "through traffic" off overloaded local roads. A draft environmental impact statement by the Army Corps of Engineers projected that by 2028, Route 92 would cut travel time across the area by 10 minutes or more on a few roads.

 On most routes, though, time would be cut by an average of only 4 1/2 minutes. In some cases, trip times would even increase.

 Opponents question such limited traffic benefits and argue that construction would destroy 13 acres of wetlands, take away more than 200 acres of what is now farmland and promote even more traffic and sprawl. The federal Environmental Protection Agency believes officials didn't do enough homework to find viable alternatives.

 The EPA is right, up to a point. But the legislators who wrote the 1991 law assigned the project to the Turnpike and specified that Route 92 had to begin by Turnpike Interchange 8A and end by the intersection of Route 1 and Ridge Road. The Turnpike has no authority to look at routes further north or south.

 Looking outside that narrow corridor might be a useless exercise, given the massive development in the region over the past 15 years. There may be no good route for a major east- west connector between Route 1 and the Turnpike. There certainly will be no uncontroversial one.

 But the current plan is too expensive and too damaging to the environment for little payoff in terms of congestion relief. Planners should look elsewhere or make do with upgrades to current roads. 

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U.S. Army Corps in deep water

In the News
Guest Column
Gene Lennon, South Brunswick Sentinel, May 27, 2004

It was great to see the large turnout at the Radisson last Thursday night (May 20). Individuals, politicians and community leaders from South Brunswick and surrounding municipalities turned out to ask questions and make comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ EIS study for Route 92.

 The purpose of an Environmental Impact Study is to weigh the positive benefits of large projects like Route 92 against the inevitable consequences to the environment and to surrounding communities. The Army Corps was selected to do the study because of its long history of doing such studies, because of its expertise in large construction projects, and, most important, because of the assumption that the Corps would do a thorough and unbiased study that would be above reproach.

It turns out that the Corps should not be considered above reproach.

Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) re-introduced legislation to reform the Army Corps of Engineers. Cosponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), the new legislation, S.2188, is The Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2004.

To quote from Sen. Daschle’s press release, dated March 12, 2004:

"The legislation creates a new Director of Independent Review within the Department of the Army to provide impartial analysis of proposed projects. The director would help ensure environmental concerns are given equal consideration when the Corps weighs a project’s costs and benefits."

Problems between Congress and the Corps have been around almost as long as the Corps has been in existence, but recent revelations have brought Corps problems back into the spotlight.

Many of the Corps’ largest and most expensive projects are actually attempts to undo problems caused by previous Corps projects. In the Northwest, dams are being "decommissioned" in an attempt to undo damage to the salmon fishing industry and the surrounding environment. In Florida the Corps is trying to "reintroduce" water to the Everglades, and the Mississippi delta is fighting for its life as the Corps searches for ways to undo previous work. These are just a few well-publicized examples, but the entire scope of the problem adds up to tens of billions in taxpayer dollars. In each example the original work was only undertaken after extensive study by the Corps. Each project had EIS statements and a full stamp of approval from the Corps.

But problems with the Corps go way beyond possible issues of incompetence.

In February 2000, The Washington Post wrote a story revealing senior Corps officials had developed a secret plan, named the Program Growth Initiative, to expand the agency’s budget by 50 percent over the next five years to $6.2 billion. This plan, which was presented in the form of a slide show, was conceived by some of the Corps’ top generals without the knowledge of the civilian assistant secretary of the Army, Dr. Joseph Westphal, who is charged with oversight of the Corps.

Apparently Corps officials were told to take a position that any large project should be passed regardless of merit or impact.

Finally, Congress steps in:

In 2000, Congress requested a study by the National Academy of Sciences after Corps officials were caught manipulating a Mississippi River study. This report and others called for independent review of large Corps projects and pointed out the need for new legislation.

The Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act has actually been rattling around Congress for a few years.

Supported by a coalition of over 100 environmental and government watchdog groups, the National Academy of Sciences, and many senior senators from both sides of the aisle, the latest incarnation of the bill may finally be addressed in this year’s session.

Considering the lack of confidence that the U.S. Congress has in the Corps’ ability to generate impartial studies, it is imperative that Gov. James E. McGreevey insist on an independent Environmental Impact Study that is above reproach before any additional consideration is given to construction of Route 92. The governor ran on a pro-environment, Smart Growth platform, and it would be inconceivable for him to base such a major project on suspect data.

Gene Lennon is the director of information technologies and production for Greater Media Newspapers and lives in the historic Village of Kingston

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‘Asphalt in search of a purpose’

A Home News Tribune editorial
May 25, 2004

Every so often public debate is punctuated by a single remark so dead on the mark that an entire truth is revealed in a few unvarnished words. It happened last week, when Michael Gerrard, special environmental counsel to South Brunswick, had this to say during hearings on Route 92, the proposed  east-west link between Route 1 and the New Jersey Turnpike: "This road is  asphalt in search of a purpose." Indeed. Backers of the plan are scrambling  to validate their position. The irony is that the same arguments they use  to promote the highway illustrate the very reasons why it should not be built.

 Proponents of Route 92 are fond of noting that growth in the Route 1 corridor in the area of Plainsboro, South Brunswick, Monroe and northern Mercer County demands an east-west safety valve that can carry traffic more easily from one side of the region to the other. The folly of that logic is that new roads don't contain sprawl or relieve traffic volume. Quite the opposite. New roads encourage growth of both.

 If approved, Route 92 would be built at a tremendous cost, and we're not just talking about the $400 million-plus price tag.

 Route 92 would fragment one of Middlesex County's largest and most fragile pieces of remaining open land; 14 acres of wetlands and 80 acres of farmland would be destroyed. Route 92 traffic would overrun the historic and fragile villages of Kingston and Dayton. Route 92 would accelerate development along the Route 1 corridor, benefiting corporate landowners and builders almost exclusively.

 The Environmental Protection Agency has deemed Route 92 harmful and unnecessary, rejecting the application numerous times. That assessment has not changed.

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DISPATCHES: Western towns bracing for Rt. 92 traffic
 By: Hank Kalet , Managing Editor
South Brunswick Post, 05/13/2004

Towns west of Route 92 have a right to be worried about the coming traffic.

All you need to do is look at a map to understand that, should Route 92 be built, it will have an impact well beyond the area studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Route 92 is slated to link the N.J. Turnpike at Exit 8A with Route 1 at Ridge Road, and it is this terminus that poses the greatest danger.

Follow my logic on this one. Route 92 is designed to get people from the N.J. Turnpike to Route 1 and points west (or from points west to the Turnpike).

The historic village of Kingston lies at the far-western terminus of the toll road between Routes 1 and 27. That means thoroughfares like Ridge Road, Academy Street and Heathcote Road are likely to fill up with cars and trucks leaving Route 92 heading toward Route 27.

Then what? Where will the cars go? If the answer to this question — one not asked by the N.J. Turnpike Authority or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in their draft Environmental Impact Statement on the highway — is the Route 287/78 corridor, then there are several options, none of which can be seen as good news for towns west of the highway.

"The stated goal is to reduce traffic on local roads," says Kingston resident Steve Masticola. "It will have the have exact opposite effect."

That's why local governments in Hopewell Borough and Hopewell Township, Hillsborough, Montgomery, Rocky Hill and Franklin have all adopted resolutions opposing the proposed four-lane Turnpike spur. These communities have repeatedly expressed concern that traffic — and trucks in particular — seeking to get to Routes 206 and 31 and points farther north from the Turnpike will be encouraged to cut through their communities, defeating their own efforts to limit the number of tractor-trailers that trek through the area. And they also are concerned that the existence of a Turnpike spur could lead to moves to extend it west and north, something that the Regional Planning Council (formerly known as MSM Regional Council) has endorsed in the past.

Jeanette Muser, a local historian and author of the book "Rocky Hill, Kingston and Griggstown," said in a written statement that Route 92 is a "short-sighted transportation solution" that will "bring an increasing amount of through traffic on to the already overburdened roads" that run through the villages that run along the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

"The impact of a major roadway connecting the eastern portion of Central Jersey with Route 1 will undoubtedly only encourage more truck and commuter traffic to use roads such as Heathcote, Route 27, Laurel Avenue in Kingston and Route 518 through Rocky Hill," she wrote.

Jon Edwards, a township committeeman in Hopewell Township, says "Route 92 will impel more traffic out this way" and that the impact of Route 92 on Hopewell — in particular, Route 31 — is likely to be the same as that of the completion of Route 287 in Passaic County. The completion of the interstate resulted in "an enormous increase in traffic on Route 31," in particular truck traffic heading toward the southwestern portion of the state.

"Route 287 was farther away (than Route 92) and nobody predicted that it would have the impact it did," he says.

The township has spent the better part of the last six or eight years working to reduce traffic on the highway, finally convincing the state to enact a ban on interstate trucks using local roads. But that ban has loopholes — trucks only need to make one stop in New Jersey to be exempt from the ban — and Mr. Edwards believes Route 92 will create a new imperative for trucks to use Route 31 and Route 518.

I can't argue with him, really. Again, one only has to look at the map to understand the logic. A truck driver — or your garden-variety motorist — looking to get to the northwestern portion of the state from points south will be able to take the Turnpike to Exit 8A, take Route 92 to Route 1, cut through Kingston and Rocky Hill to Route 518 and follow that road to either Route 206 or Route 31.

Or he can cut through Kingston and Franklin Township, linking with Route 287 in South Bound Brook or Manville, allowing drivers to cut out two exits on the Turnpike. This would save drivers about eight to 10 miles total (15 miles on the Turnpike and about 10 miles on Route 287, less the 15-17 miles traveled from Route 92 up South Middlebush Road).

Would drivers opt for this approach? I don't know. But neither do supporters of the highway, who have yet to ask this question — or any question regarding the potential traffic fallout west of Route 27.

"What I want to know from the Army Corps is," Mr. Edwards says, "is Hopewell Township in your study area? What is the impact of Route 92 on trucking on Route 31? If they don't have an answer, I want to know why."

So does Mr. Masticola.

"The DEIS doesn't extend past Middlesex County into the zone that will be impacted the heaviest," he says. "These are the intersections that will be hit the hardest and little attention has been paid to them."

Which, as Mr. Masticola points out, raises perhaps the most important question of all.

"I don't know how this DEIS could be used by decision-makers to build 92," he says. "It's too flawed to be usable."

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DISPATCHES: Why sacrifice Plainsboro Preserve for an illusion?

Encroaching on this pristine property is not worth the mirage of traffic relief.

By: Hank Kalet , Managing Editor
Cranbury Press, 05/07/2004

 Jim Jeffers is worried about Route 92.

The Plainsboro resident, who is vice president of the Plainsboro-based Walker-Gordon Lab Co., has heard all the reasons why the road is supposedly needed. He's heard the predictions of bottlenecks and traffic jams to come if the road is not built. He's heard how it is needed to channel traffic off local roads and ease congestion.

He just doesn't buy those arguments.

And what's more, he is concerned that construction of the 6.7-mile toll road will damage the integrity of the Plainsboro Preserve and the surrounding area, much of which is targeted for preservation by South Brunswick and could be part of a larger effort to keep southern Middlesex County from being overrun by macadam.

"Do we want a highway or the open space?" he asks. "If you take a look at all the other open space acquisitions - that's the trend in the area. Do you want that or do you want to run a road through there?"

That to me is the central issue in this debate. I've been writing about this issue for the better part of the last 14 years and the arguments about Route 92 boils down this way:

Opponents, like many in South Brunswick, see the highway as a threat to rural character of the area. By slicing through what are primarily wooded and open areas, the highway would be just one more bit of bad development strangling the region. And this does not take into account the highway's obscene cost (estimated at around $400 million) or what it is likely to do to the village of Kingston.

Supporters, like Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, Princeton University, Forrestal Center and the Regional Planning Council, say the benefit to the region in traffic flow outweighs what they say would be a limited impact on the preserve and other wetland areas. For them, the trade-off is a worthy one. To do nothing would be unwise.

It is this mentality that Mr. Jeffers finds foolish.

"It is grotesque," he says. "If I thought it was achieving something that would make a huge difference, I might say it is in the public good. But the (traffic relief) numbers seem so nominal. Are we really going to feel it?"

Plainsboro resident Bob Margadonna, who had been working with the Friends of the Plainsboro Preserve to halt Route 92, wonders the same thing.

"Even if Route 92 is built, it is no panacea for what ails us," he said Tuesday. The traffic on Route 1 heading south will continue to be unmanageable, he says, and is likely only to get worse.

And there is the strong possibility - disputed by the road's supporters - that it will actually become an attractive nuisance, bringing more cars to the region and further exacerbating the problem.

It makes no sense to encroach on the preserve in exchange for what is an illusory promise of traffic relief, Mr. Margadonna says.

"The preserve is described as serene strip of land, an oasis of solitude in the area," he said Tuesday. "It will all be destroyed by the construction of this road. It is a great environmental resource that will be severely compromised."

Mr. Jeffers' company had owned the property that is now the preserve. In the early 1990s, when the push by the N.J. Turnpike Authority to build the highway was picking up steam, he reached out to officials at the local, county and state level and arranged to have a 650-acre section of the Walker-Gordon property turned into a conservation area. His hope was, somehow, to create a roadblock to the highway's construction, to help create momentum for open space preservation in a section of the county ripe for preservation.

Route 92 threatens the property's integrity, he says, because it would slice 12-plus acres off the preserve and create a massive nuisance in the middle of what is designed to be a pristine habitat.

"Diffusion is the solution to pollution," he says. "It's an old saying that gets bandied around the environmental community. There is an argument out there as to whether to channel traffic and all the environmental hazards associated with it into one place or do you diffuse it. With Route 92 they want to keep it in one place. The irony is they're doing it in a spot surrounded by all this open space and parkland.

"Our problem is that we just don't have too many places rich in all this wildlife," he said Tuesday. "Once you start the fragmentation of the property, you will degrade all the surrounding area that they are trying to preserve."

But that's not what the highway's supporters believe. They think they can have their cake - a four-lane, limited-access toll road - without having an impact on the environment, without creating an imperative for other development. They don't see this monstrous mass of asphalt, which will cut through the preserve and the rural southwestern portion of South Brunswick, as the threat to the environment it is.

What this comes down to is a massive gamble on the part of supporters, who are willing to sacrifice the integrity of the Plainsboro Preserve and spoil one of the last rural areas left in the county for a pipe dream.

With that in mind, Mr. Jeffers offers this reminder: "Once it's done, it's done and you can't undo it."

And all we'll be left with is an expensive bit of macadam, a whole lot of cars and one more nail in the coffin for our environment.

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Dispatches”, by Hank Kalet
South Brunswick Post, April 29, 2004

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appears inclined to issue permits for Route 92.

The Army Corps, after all, is a group of engineers and engineers believe that there are no problems they can't engineer their way out of.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with former South Brunswick Township Engineer Bud Downing back in the early 1990s. We were discussing the township water system and a proposal to build a second water tower in Little Rocky Hill. He supported the tower because it would offer the simplest solution to the water pressure issues affecting portions of Kendall Park, but he said he could make any option selected by the then-Township Committee.

"You can engineer a solution to any problem," he said.

Another way of looking at it comes from a former information technology supervisor who worked for the Princeton Packet a while back. When asked if he could solve a particular problem, he responded that he could make an elephant fly. The only problem, he said, was how much were we willing to pay for the helicopters.

To bring this back to Route 92, the proposed 6.7-mile toll road should be seen as the elephant while the environmental mitigation, loss of wetlands and other environmental problems associated with Route 92 — not to mention the $400 million to $500 million it will cost to built it — are the helicopters.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps last week did not make any official recommendation on Route 92. But it stands as a testament to what I'll call "engineered optimism," a mindset that has caused the Army Corps over the years to attempt to reroute the Mississippi River and to recommend water resource projects that have been criticized by groups ranging from the General Accounting Office, the National Academy of Sciences, the Army Inspector General's office and major environmental organizations.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, is calling for reforms of the Army Corps' planning process. The groups, in a letter to U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), ranking committee member, said: the Corps' planning process is "hopelessly biased to support the construction of large-scale projects, does not adequately protect the environment, results in the recommendation of projects that are not economically justified, and is based on flawed economic and scientific analyses."

The Army Corps, which was officially created in 1802 to run the nation's first engineering school and to build forts, roads and conduct survey work, has a history of being friendly to development applications. A September 2000 story in The Washington Post said the Corps "has altered more wetlands with its dams, levees and other water projects than any other American developer." The story also called it the "nation's unlikeliest regulatory agency." It is the federal agency assigned to oversee wetlands regulation and acts as an arbiter when federal and state regulators cannot agree on how to respond to development applications — as is the case with Route 92.

According to The Washington Post, the Corps' "$117 million regulatory program is mostly just a permitting program, approving well over 99 percent of developers' requests to drain, dredge and fill wetlands, consistently finding that even sensitive projects would have negligible impacts."

This bias toward construction is at the center of the Army Corps' flawed analysis of Route 92.

The report makes Route 92 — which would link Route 1 with N.J. Turnpike Exit 8A and could cost motorists about 75 cents a trip — seem like the solution to all the region's traffic woes. It goes so far as to claim that it would allow the Turnpike to serve as an alternative for people now using Route 1. It minimizes the impact on South Brunswick residents and seems unconcerned with the changes a highway of this magnitude would force on one of the last major undeveloped areas of Middlesex County.

More troubling is the narrowness of the corps' review, which excludes the potential impact the road could have on the Somerset County towns of Franklin, Montgomery and Hillsborough, as well as Mercer County towns like Hopewell Township and Hopewell Borough. Those areas are excluded from the study area even though they would bear the brunt of the traffic looking to get from the Route 202/206/287 corridor to Route 92 and the Turnpike. And this does not even take into account what will happen in Kingston, which sits at the terminus of the proposed road. (The Army Corps inconceivably asserts that Route 92 will take cars off Route 27 and keep cars out of Kingston, though I cannot divine by what logic they make this claim.)

As for the impact on Route 1 and Route 27, I have to wonder if anyone at the Army Corps has actually seen a map. The draft environmental statement offers Route 92 and the Turnpike as an alternative to Route 1. However, someone should inform the Army Corps that the turnpike does not run parallel to Route 1 and its limited access (there are only four places to get on the highway between East Brunswick and Bordentown) makes it rather inconvenient to use as a way of getting from South Brunswick to Lawrence, Hamilton or Trenton.

This brings up a major flaw in nearly all traffic studies — whether they focus on Route 92 or some other highway. They rarely take into account where the drivers who are using the roads come from or are heading to — workers at Dow Jones, for instance, who live in Hamilton (and, based on my own experience, there are quite a few) seem poor candidates for the Army Corps' suggested alternative.

Looked at this way, the draft environmental study can be seen as a compendium of the flawed logic used over the years to justify all manner of bad roads and unnecessary blacktop across the state.

Route 92 opponents will have a chance to comment at a May 20 hearing and a big turnout can't hurt.

But I wouldn't limit myself to making my case to the Army Corps. Highway opponents need to get the state Legislature and the governor involved. It's time to camp out at the Statehouse with signs, time to join with taxpayer and anti-toll groups and time to get together with other groups fighting unnecessary road projects and traffic, like the folks down in South Jersey who fought to prevent extension of Route 55 and the people along the Route 31 and Route 206 corridor fighting an increase in truck traffic.

One thing is for certain, opponents of Route 92 cannot count on the Army Corps to do the right thing.

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North-South Brunswick Sentinel
April 29, 2004

Route 92 is still wrong

The N.J. Turnpike’s plan to build a 6.7-mile toll road between exit 8A of the turnpike and Route 1 in South Brunswick would damage the community, the environment and the already-stretched fiscal situation of the Turnpike Authority.

The project, estimated to cost about $400 million, will fill 12 acres of wetlands and temporarily fill another 3 acres during construction. The planned road will cut across much of the only rural open space in the township.

Neighbors to the south, including Plainsboro and Princeton, feel this roadway is needed to ease regional traffic congestion. We disagree.

There are several intersections in the area where the road will be built that will continue to fail state waiting standards even if the project is built, according to a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to the draft environmental impact study released this week, intersections at Dey Road, and Schalk’s Crossing will still "fail" state tests for intersection efficiency despite the construction of Route 92.

South Brunswick, and especially Kingston residents, have the most to fear from this antiquated project. Thousands of cars may be unloaded on Route 1 at the Ridge Road intersection.

Route 1 is troublesome enough without the added burden this project would load onto that road.

The Army Corps study admits that the road will only meet expectations if "other agencies" complete work such as widening Route 1.

The N.J. Department of Transportation has said that increasing the number of lanes on Route 1 from four to six may take the better part of a decade to complete.

That agency already turned this project away for lack of funding in 1992.

Besides the immediate problems that this project would bring to the township, we wonder why a 60-year-old idea that has languished on a shelf for so long is so desperately needed now?

Perhaps one answer is that Princeton Forrestal Center on Route 1 is struggling.

The mall, which is owned by the financial arm of Princeton University, would benefit from a "driveway" of sorts from the turnpike.

This project should remain as it is, the oldest unfinished road construction project in the state.

The state and the authority can make better use of the money.

Perhaps they could use that money as a start to dismantle the toll roads in the state that should have been bulldozed years ago. Both the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway need projects like this to continue to build debt, and thus continue to collect tolls.

We are not holding our breath, but we are hoping that this project finally dies.

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A Home News Tribune editorial
April 25, 2004

This week the Army Corps of Engineers released its long-awaited environmental impact statement on Route 92, the controversial New Jersey Turnpike extension that would connect Interchange 8A with Route 1. Its conclusions are disturbing. By some form of voodoo logic, the study boosts construction of the highway as a means of relieving Route 1 traffic, when just the opposite would occur. Researchers go on to conveniently minimize the disastrous effects that the roadway would have on the region's environment. Kingston resident Steve Masticola, a longtime fighter against sprawl, put it best when he labeled the findings a "greenwashing" of facts. Indeed.

Among its numerous defects, Route 92 would slice through one of Middlesex County's largest and most fragile pieces of remaining open land; 14 acres of wetlands and 80 acres of farmland would be destroyed.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already weighed this data and found it damning; the EPA has deemed the roadway unnecessary, rejecting the application numerous times.

Nor is there is proof Route 92 would ease congestion. Quite the contrary. Route 92 would simply generate more cars and more sprawl, making congestion worse. Historically significant and fragile communities clustered near Route 1 would face irreparable harm, Masticola's Kingston neighborhood and the hamlet of Dayton among them.

The plan is fiscally perilous, if not downright irresponsible as well.

The 6-mile-long connection was projected to cost $400 million two years ago. That price tag has surely climbed. The cash-strapped Turnpike Authority would be hard pressed not to raise tolls or seek help from the state -- a state, by the way, that has a transportation-funding crisis of its own.

But moneyed interests want to see the roadway become reality. Princeton University is one of those sponsors.

The school decided in the 1970s to beef up its endowment by going into the land-development business. The university owns more than 1,300 acres in Middlesex County, and, since the 1970s, the institution has become one of the area's most active land developers.

Princeton can expect a windfall if Route 92 is finished.

So too can Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, a staunch advocate of Route 92, whose township would cash in on a commercial-ratables boom of enormous proportions.

Support for Route 92 is all about profit-taking, nothing more. But the public has other concerns in mind, its health, its home, and its collective peace of mind. On those scores, every bit of evidence points to one incontrovertible fact: This highway should not be built -- now, later, or ever.

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