Corrections or additions?

This article by Bill Sanservino was prepared for the October 25,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Life in the Fast Lane: Millstone Bypass

In the 1970s and 1980s, a group of influential Hopewell

Township residents managed to stop Interstate 95 from passing through

their collective backyards. To this day motorists heading north from

Florida must scratch their heads at the turns and twists of I-95 as

it passes through New Jersey.

Now some Princeton officials, residents, and regional

environmentalists

are gearing up for a fight over the state Department of Transportation

plans to remove all lights from the Princeton-Route 1 corridor. If

they succeed the highway at Washington Road and Harrison Street could

be the only broken link in an otherwise clear stretch of highway

through

the corridor.

Last week the New Jersey Department of Transportation released an

Environmental Assessment for the proposed Millstone Bypass — a

roadway that would remove three of the last remaining sets of traffic

lights on the Route 1 corridor. To no one’s surprise the DOT’s

preferred

alignment, the subject of considerable public debate, came out on

top.

Now opponents of the bypass are marshaling their forces in preparation

of a DOT-sponsored public hearing on the environmental assessment

to be held in the coming weeks. Opponents of the roadway have

indicated

that they have the resources and the wherewithal to stop or at least

slow the project for a long, long time.

The main purpose of the DOT’s 400-plus page environmental assessment

document — released on the Internet at

www.state.nj.us/dot/roads/rt1/penn_neck

— was to identify potential social and environmental impacts of

the planned project to help determine whether an in-depth and lengthy

environmental study is necessary.

Under the state’s currently-proposed "preferred

alignment," the bypass would begin at the railroad bridge on Route

571 near the Ellsworth’s shopping center in West Windsor, and run

through the Sarnoff Center, paralleling the Millstone River. The road

would then cross Route 1 at a new overpass near Harrison Street and

turn south near the Delaware & Raritan Canal to eventually intersect

with Washington Road. The plan calls for the removal of traffic lights

at Washington Road, Fisher Place, and Harrison Street. The highway

is part of DOT’s plan to remove traffic lights on Route 1 between

New Brunswick and Trenton.

Ultimately, the Federal Highway Administration will make a

determination

based on the DOT assessment and public comments and testimony on

whether

to give the project a green light, or require another round of lengthy

evaluations to gauge the proposal’s impacts.

Meanwhile, opponents of the bypass are proposing their own plan of

attack for the upcoming public hearing. Princeton resident Peggy

Kilmer

of STOP says the group has hired "nationally-known

consultants"

in their effort, but declined to mention their identities before the

public hearing.

"We are carefully reviewing the (DOT’s) documentation," Kilmer

says, adding that the environmental assessment was "very, very

poorly written, with inconsistencies even in its own logic."

Kilmer

says STOP’s chief concern is the planning process employed by DOT,

which she says did not follow federal transportation planning

guidelines.

George Hawkins, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone

Watershed

Association, told reporters he plans to review the document in great

detail, but said that based on initial observation, he is confident

the association can put a good case before Department of

Transportation

and the Federal Highway Administration.

"Our biggest concern is the degree to which DOT and the FHA are,

in fact, open to all alternatives, or have they long since made their

decision on the so-called final alignment," Hawkins was quoted

as saying. "We will definitely go through this as if government

has an open mind, but their conduct to date has indicated

otherwise."

Throughout the waiting period for the environmental assessment,

Hawkins

has questioned the size and scope of the DOT’s document, arguing that

federal law defines an environmental assessment as a concise public

document that should be completed early in the assessment process,

and which is meant to briefly provide evidence for determining whether

an environmental impact statement is needed. Princeton Borough Mayor

Marvin Reed has said the Borough and Princeton Township plan to

thoroughly

review the environmental assessment with traffic and environmental

consultants hired by both municipalities.

West Windsor, where the bypass would be located, favors the project

as part of its long-term plans to keep cars moving on Route 1 and

to route regional traffic off neighborhood roads. Mayor Carole Carson

says that the "DOT came in exactly where I expected. They chose

the best alternative and looked at all the alternatives. Yes, the

project does have some environmental impact but that impact can be

mitigated. It bears out what West Windsor and DOT have said all along

— the other alternatives are not viable and they have impacts

as well."

The mayor adds that the project’s positives outweigh the negative

effects, from West Windsor’s perspective. "We can certainly live

with the impacts better than we can live without the bypass. West

Windsor really needs this bypass to move traffic out of Penns Neck.

There is too much traffic going through that neighborhood."

The longer the project is delayed, the longer negative conditions

on that stretch of Route 1 will continue to exist, says Carson.

"The

traffic lights at Washington Road and U.S. 1 are dangerous and there

are frequent accidents there. It is important to remove that danger

zone from the township. The traffic idling on Route 1 resulting from

those lights is creating air pollution, traffic accidents,

frustration.

We need to move this along — the traffic and the project."

The DOT report looks at the preferred alignment and several

alternatives,

including a no-build option; a Route 1 frontage road; and lowering

Route 1 to allow Washington Road and Harrison Street to pass over

the highway. It concludes that only the preferred alignment "meets

the project need and each of its objectives, and would avoid or

minimize

environmental impacts."

In most areas, the report found little impact from the project and,

in areas where there is, the report outlines proposals to lessen the

effects. "Where unavoidable impacts occur, appropriate mitigation

measures would be taken, such that the project would not result in

significant adverse environmental impacts that cannot be

mitigated."

According to the report, improvements at Harrison Street would require

"minor impacts" to the D&R Canal Park. The area affected is

about .029 acres. The report also states that "all towpath,

bridge,

berm and prism components which are actively used components of the

park would be unaffected by these improvements."

The report claims that air quality, noise, water quality, floodplains,

and aquatic ecology impacts are all within state and federal

regulations.

Several Route 1 properties would need to be acquired, states DOT,

including four residential properties, the Eden Institute, Princeton

Circle Exxon, the now-closed Gulf station, and Larry’s Sunoco.

The report also lists eight historic properties impacted by the plan:

the Covenhoven-Silvers-Logan House; the Princeton Operating Station

(now known as the AT&T building); the Washington Road Elm Allee; parts

of the Delaware & Raritan Canal; the Aqueduct Mills Historic District;

and three archaeological sites.

The state is required to wait at least 30 days before holding a public

hearing on the report. Officials have said that an exact date for

the public hearing is unknown and may not come until the new year,

due to scheduling difficulties resulting from the November and

December

holidays.

According to DOT, once the public comment period is closed, it will

begin to assemble and address all of the public and agency comments

on the project. The DOT will then send a package to the Federal

Highway

Administration (FHWA) that includes the report and a summary of the

results of the public process. "If it is determined by the FHWA

that there are no significant impacts, then a Finding of No

Significant

Impact (FONSI) will be prepared," says a DOT press release.

"If

it is determined by the FHWA that the project is likely to have a

significant impact, then a preparation of an Environmental Impact

Statement (EIS) will be required."

An EIS is an in-depth study of the roadway’s impacts and could take

up to 18 months to complete. If an EIS is required, the project would

suffer a crippling delay. DOT’s plans call for construction to begin

on the highway in late 2003, with a two-year construction timeline.

An EIS would push the project back at least two years.


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