Turnpike cancels Route 92

By: Joseph Harvie, Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 12/07/2006

Focus to go towards Turnpike widening

After years of debates, studies and engineering reports, the N.J. Turnpike Authority has officially canceled the proposed Route 92 project.

The N.J. Turnpike Authority, in a Dec. 1 letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection, said it has decided to shift its focus from the proposed 6.7-mile limited-access toll road to a planned widening of the Turnpike from exits 6 to 9.

"Now that we are moving forward on the widening project — the largest expansion of the Turnpike since it was built over 50 years ago — we have decided to cancel the Route 92 project," turnpike Executive Director Michael Lapolla said in the letter.

The letter was sent to the DEP to officially withdraw applications for wetlands and stream-crossing permits needed from the agency to allow the N.J. Turnpike Authority to build the road.

N.J. Turnpike Authority spokesman Joe Orlando confirmed in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview that the authority was canceling the project.

The decision comes a year after the Turnpike Authority shifted $175 million of the $181 million set aside for Route 92 to the turnpike widening project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also will halt work on the environmental impact statement, corps spokeswoman Sue Hopkins said Wednesday. She said the corps received a copy of the letter sent to the DEP and is waiting for a similar letter from the Turnpike Authority to formally end work on the EIS.

The Army Corps was reviewing the road because state and federal environmental agencies could not agree on whether permits should be issued. The DEP planned to issue permits, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency rejected them, saying other, less intrusive alternatives exist.

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese called the Turnpike's decision good news. He said Monday that the end of Route 92 is a victory for the township.

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

He said that the cancellation of the project would also put about 100 acres in the right-of-way for the proposed road near Friendship Road, back into the hands of farmers. In addition, he said it could free up other land set aside for the project.

"Now they can do some planting, and it frees up the rest of the land that was set aside for the road," Mayor Gambatese said.

Assemblyman Bill Baroni, a Republican whose district includes South Brunswick, said that the cancellation of the road is an important victory for the people of South Brunswick.

"In the end this is about a group of neighbors who rallied together across party lines, across ideological lines and proved that this is the wrong road in the wrong place, at the wrong time," Mr. Baroni said.

Mr. Baroni said that he would continue to push legislation that would strip authorization for the road from the Turnpike.

"It seems very clear the road is not going to happen," Mr. Baroni said. "But I'm an old-fashioned believer in check and confirm or 'trust but verify' to quote (Ronald) Reagan. I'm going to keep this legislation out there just in case we need to fight for it."

State Sen. Peter Inverso, a Republican whose district includes South Brunswick, said that he was happy the Turnpike decided to cancel the road, because it would have been too expensive to build.

In addition, he said that he would also keep the Senate version of Mr. Baroni's legislation active, just in case it is needed.

"I'll definitely keep it in place," he said. "We don't control the process, so we would have to muster some support to get it moved. But we'll keep it in there. It is good until the end of next year."

Kingston resident Steve Masticola, a founder of No 92, said the news was good for the residents of South Brunswick, especially those in Kingston. He said that the road has made municipalities in the area hesitant to work with one another over the years and that they now should be able to work together to come up with a transportation solution.

"This area has some of the best brains in country," Mr. Masticola said. "We need to put them to work to make a transportation system that works. And they should bear the burdens fairly. The communities pushing for new roads, should have to bear their burdens."

Former township Mayor Howard Bellizio, a longtime supporter of the road, said at a Township Council meeting Tuesday that he would like to see the township ask the state and Turnpike Authority about acquiring the land that had been set aside for the right-of-way for Route 92.

Mr. Bellizio said that some of the land could be used to put overpasses at the intersections of Route 130 and Friendship Road near the park-and-ride on Route 130 and at Route 1 and Ridge Road.

Mayor Gambatese said the township has sent out requests to the DEP and the Turnpike Authority to have the land in the right-of-way turned over to the township.

Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu called the decision to cancel the project "a mistake" because the Route 1 corridor has been targeted for development, and Route 92 was a critical piece of the infrastructure that should have been put in place to support that development.

"It is what it is and we have to move on from here," Mayor Cantu said. "We're disappointed, and we think it's a decision that the state will regret."

Packet Group writers Courtney Gross and Molly Petrilla contributed to this story.