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ROUTE 92 DECISION CRITICIZED

MAYORS: HOLD OFF ON OTHER PROJECTS

Princeton-area officials are questioning a federal EPA recommendation to preserve wetlands by denying a permit for the proposed Route 92.

Copied from webpages at http://www.pacpub.com on Oct. 3, 1998.


Princeton-area officials unhappy with Route 92 decision

Princeton mayors seek postponement of other road projects

By Chris Antar
Princeton Packet Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 1998

Princeton-area officials are questioning a federal Environmental Protection Agency recommendation to preserve wetlands by denying a permit for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's proposed Route 92.

The EPA announced its decision Friday during a press conference at its Edison facility. And while some transportation groups and environmentalists greeted the decision as a victory, advocates - including Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu - vowed to keep pushing for a regional traffic route linking the turnpike and Route 1. "I feel this (decision) to be either naive or irresponsible," Mayor Cantu said. "We have significant regional traffic problems, and they need to be solved through regional solutions." The EPA is favoring a "partial-build" alternative that would ease traffic congestion in the area just west of the Turnpike in central New Jersey. But Mayor Cantu insisted the alternative would not alleviate the regional traffic problem.

"The alternatives offered by the EPA are outrageous and betray either their indifference to our traffic problems or their ignorance of the conditions that Route 92 will address," he said.

In a joint letter released Monday, Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand and Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed asked the state Department of Transportation to postpone four other road projects they consider part of an east-west network to bypass Princeton. That request, according to the two mayors, was a direct result of the EPA's announcement.

"Until there is a real study of the emerging traffic in the Route 1 corridor and the consequences of canceling the Turnpike extension, we urge you to put a moratorium on such other projects," the mayors' letter stated.

Those projects include the proposed expansion of Route 206 in Hillsborough and the widening of Route 571 in West Windsor, according to Mayor Reed. Without Route 92, those improvements would funnel traffic through Princeton, he said.

The EPA reviewed the Turnpike Authority's traffic analysis and decided Route 92 would alleviate only part of what the federal agency acknowledged is a major traffic congestion problem, said Jeanne Fox, EPA regional administrator.

Plus, Ms. Fox said, Route 92 would bring 12,000 more vehicles through the area - vehicles that would have taken other routes - while diverting little traffic off local roads.

Ms. Fox said the EPA's decision was based on the state Clean Water Act protecting wetlands and on the Turnpike Authority's traffic analysis projecting traffic flow up until 2015. The EPA considered the Turnpike Authority to be an expert on transportation and assumed its calculations were reliable, she said.

"This was not a gray area," Ms. Fox said. "The decision was based on the law and on the facts."

But the EPA's decision does not necessarily kill plans for Route 92.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has 30 days to decide whether to accept the EPA's recommendation. If the department declines, the Turnpike Authority's proposal will be automatically referred to the Army Corps of Engineers for another federal analysis. Benita Jain of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group - which has campaigned against the road - said she was pleased the EPA chose not to support what she called an "environmental disaster." NJPIRG will continue lobby Governor Whitman to halt the Turnpike Authority's proposal, she said.

The Turnpike Authority responded Friday to the EPA's statement by pledging to stand Route 92 plans. Turnpike officials say they believe the road will benefit the region and alleviate traffic congestion. Turnpike officials said they will review the EPA's proposed alternatives and work with environmental regulating agencies in the next 30 days to reach an agreement.

This is the second time the EPA has recommended against granting wetlands permits for the project. In January 1997, the EPA recommended the state not issue wetlands permits needed for the construction of Route 92. The Turnpike Authority subsequently modified its proposal to lessen the impact of the project on the Devil's Brook floodplain, and the proposal was sent back to the EPA.

Sharon Southard, a DEP spokesperson, said the department would be reviewing the EPA's recommendation "with impartiality" over the next 30 days. She declined to speculate on the state's plans.

If the Army Corps recommends against the wetlands permit and the state DEP still wants to authorize the project, the final decision would be made by the federal Council on Environmental Quality.

Mayor Cantu said he hopes the DEP will have a different opinion on the wetlands.

"The need for Route 92 did not disappear ... because of the EPA decision," he said. "We are hopeful that the DEP can provide a more balanced assessment of this issue and that this important project can move forward."


Hightstown, East Windsor wary of Route 92 decision

Officials to monitor developments carefully

By Charles Toutant
The Packet Group
Friday, October 2, 1998

Events of the next several weeks that will determine the fate of the controversial Route 92 project through South Brunswick and Plainsboro will be watched closely in the Hightstown-East Windsor area.

If plans to build the east-west Route 92 bypass to connect Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 1 near Princeton are canceled, local quality of life will be impacted in the area near the Turnpike's Exit 8, Hightstown Mayor Scott Caster said. Both Mayor Caster and East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov said they will be following with great interest the events surrounding Route 92.

Cancellation of the Route 92 project would be a disappointment, according to Mayor Caster. It's hard to quantify how much impact local roads would see if the Route 92 project is called off due to objections of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but the local impact is undeniable, Mayor Caster said. Calling off Route 92 would undoubtedly have some impact on roads near Exit 8 in Hightstown and East Windsor, a popular path from the Turnpike to the growing Route 1 corridor, he added.

"Any bit of relief that Hightstown can benefit from would be a step in a positive direction for us," Mayor Caster said this week. "So Hightstown has definitely been rooting for Route 92." Mayor Caster said he was supportive of the recent action by Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed and Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand asking the state Department of Transportation to postpone plans for the Millstone Bypass, to be constructed at the west end of Route 571 in West Windsor.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority has been planning to construct the limited-access Route 92 as a way to ease traffic congestion in the area around Exit 8A and to provide a convenient way to reach the Route 1 corridor near Princeton. The EPA ruled that a "partial-build" solution near Exit 8A - that is, make improvements to the roads in the immediate vicinity of Exit 8A - was preferable because construction of the entire project would lead to extensive destruction of wetlands areas.

"I don't have enough information at this point to comment," Mayor Mironov said. She did say, however, that she would be following events surrounding Route 92 to determine the possible impact on her township.

East Windsor's engineer and planner are evaluating plans by Mercer County to widen Route 571 from two to four lanes through the township, Mayor Mironov said this week. Previously, the township had been kept waiting for months for the county to provide specific information on its plans to widen Route 571 but had been frustrated over the county's lack of responsiveness. The township wanted information on the Route 571 plans because it wanted to be able to evaluate impact on various commercial developments being planned along Route 571.

In 1999 the completion of the Hightstown Bypass is expected to greatly speed up the trip from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Princeton area. And the Millstone Bypass that is planned at the west end of Route 571 will further speed the trip for east-west traffic using Route 571.

Mayor Caster noted that support for Route 92 is widespread in the region.

"I don't see how central New Jersey can exist without it," Mayor Caster said. "I predict the road (Route 92) will be built in the foreseeable future," he said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has 30 days to decide whether to accept the EPA's recommendation. If the department declines, the Turnpike Authority's proposal will be automatically referred to the Army Corps of Engineers for another federal analysis.

The Turnpike Authority responded to the EPA's statement by pledging to stand by its Route 92 plans. Turnpike officials say they believe the road will benefit the region and alleviate traffic congestion. Turnpike officials say they will review the EPA's proposed alternatives and work with environmental regulating agencies in the next 30 days to reach an agreement.

This is the second time the EPA has recommended against granting wetlands permits for the project. In January 1997, the EPA recommended the state not issue wetlands permits needed for construction of Route 92. The Turnpike Authority subsequently modified its proposal to lessen the impact of the project on floodplains was sent back to the EPA.

Sharon Southard, a DEP spokeswoman, said the department would be reviewing the EPA's recommendation "with impartiality" over the next 30 days. She declined to speculate on the state's plans.

If the Army Corps recommends against the wetlands permit and the state DEP still wants to authorize the project, the final decision would be made by the federal Council on Environmental Quality.

The mayor of Plainsboro, Peter Cantu, said he hopes the DEP will have a different opinion on the wetlands.

"The need for Route 92 did not disappear because of the EPA decision," he said. "We are hopeful that the DEP can provide a more balanced assessment of this issue and that this important project can move forward."

Packet Group Staff Writer Bonnie Freestone contributed to this report.


Cranbury fearful of impact of Route 92 decision

Mayor criticizes EPA's refusal to recommend wetlands permit

By Bonnie Freestone
The Packet Group
Friday, October 2, 1998

Cranbury Mayor Alan Danser criticized a federal decision to deny a wetlands permit for Route 92 saying the ruling would mean heavier traffic in the township.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it recommends against issuing a wetlands permit for Route 92, saying there is a better "partial-build" alternative to reduce traffic congestion where it's the worst - in the area just west of the Turnpike.

The N.J. Turnpike Authority had sought EPA approval for the road, which would connect Route 1 in South Brunswick and the Turnpike at Exit 8A, because the road would have displaced 18.2 acres of wetlands.

The EPA's decision does not necessarily kill plans for Route 92. The state Department of Environmental Protection has 30 days to decide to accept the EPA's ruling. If it decides to issue state-level permits, the Turnpike Authority's proposal will be referred to the federal Army Corps of Engineers for another federal analysis.

If the Corps recommends against the wetlands permit and the state DEP wants to authorize the project anyway, the final decision will be made by the federal Council on Environmental Quality.

If such a disagreement did occur, it would set a precedent for New Jersey, said Jeanne Fox, EPA Regional Administrator. A 1993 federal law gives states the right to issue wetlands permits, she said, but only New Jersey and Michigan have taken on that responsibility. The N.J. DEP has not yet challenged an EPA decision, so such a move would be unusual, she said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Whitman said Tuesday the governor has not determined how to proceed. And DEP spokeswoman Sharon Southard said Friday the DEP would be reviewing, "with impartiality" the EPA's information in the next 30 days and was not prepared to speculate on the state's decision to further pursue a wetlands permit.

Mayor Danser said he hopes the state will continue to pursue construction of Route 92.

Quot;Everybody says we need an east-west connector and there is no other way to do it," he said. "The alternatives they presented are just not going to happen."

Cranbury was among more than a half-dozen municipalities to endorse the road, including Monroe, Plainsboro and North Brunswick in Middlesex County, and several Mercer County towns. South Brunswick is the only town in the region to oppose the road.

Monroe Mayor Richard Pucci said the township did not have a reaction to the EPA's decision. He characterized the township's support as "lukewarm" because Route 92 is not likely to have a major impact in Monroe.

Ms. Fox said the EPA reviewed the Turnpike Authority's traffic analysis, deciding Route 92 would alleviate only part of what it agreed are major congestion problems in the area. Its alternative, and several other road improvements, would offer the same relief, she said.

In addition, she said, Route 92 would bring 12,000 more vehicles per day through the area that would have taken other routes, while diverting little traffic off local roads.

The alternative suggested by Hagler-Bailly of Virginia, a traffic consulting company hired by the EPA to review the proposal, would spare all of the wetlands in the area, according to the EPA.

The EPA recommended several improvements to state, county and local roads that it believes would do as much to cut down on traffic problems as Route 92. The improvements include:

The EPA also said that alternatives to Route 92 would do as much to alleviate congestion as the toll road. The alternatives include Route 522 (slated to connect Route 130 to Route 27 when completed), the Hightstown Bypass (which will link Route 33 near Exit 8 of the Turnpike with Route 571 in East Windsor), mass transit improvements and carpooling or commuters, would were suggested for commuters.

The EPA also said that several intersections and roads would not be improved by either Route 92 or the EPA's suggested alternative. They include local roads running through the village of Kingston south of Route 522, the intersection of Route 130 and Stults Road in South Brunswick, the intersection of Plainsboro Road and Main Street in Cranbury and the intersection of Plainsboro Road and Scotts Corner Road in Plainsboro.

Mayor Danser called the conclusions of the EPA's traffic consultant "ludicrous."

"Anybody that thinks improving three intersections will eliminate the need for an east-west connector is just wrong," Mayor Danser said.

The EPA first questioned the need for the road in a January 1997 letter, saying other alternatives would have lesser impact on wetlands.

The Turnpike subsequently modified its proposal to lessen the impact of the project on the Devil's Brook flood plain, and the proposal was sent back to the EPA.

Ms. Fox said the EPA asked the Turnpike Authority to consider alternatives to the current alignment in 1997, but, she said, the Turnpike held that Route 92 was the best solution.

The Turnpike Authority responded to the EPA's decision in a statement Friday, in which it continued to stand by its preferred version of Route 92. Turnpike officials say they believe the road will benefit the region and alleviate traffic congestion.

The Turnpike plans to review the alternatives to Route 92 and will work with the environmental regulating agencies in the next 30 days, according to the statement.

Ms. Fox said the EPA's decision was based on the state Clean Water Act protecting wetlands and on the Turnpike's traffic analysis projecting traffic flow up until 2015. She said the EPA considered the Turnpike Authority to be an expert on transportation and assumed its calculations are reliable.

"This was not a gray area," she said "The decision was based on the law and on the facts."

Although the EPA did not consider the expense of the road - estimated at $350 million - it suggested the Turnpike would save between $70 million and $200 million with the "partial-build option."


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Last revision: Saturday, October 03, 1998 - 22:53