DEP Seeks Public Comment on Railroad Avenue Bypass Road
State soliciting opinions by Feb. 10 prior to issuing environmental approval to Lacey Township
The state Department of Environmental Protection is calling for public comment before issuing a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) permit for the proposed Railroad Avenue connector road.
“This is one step in the permitting process,” Mayor Mark Dykoff said. “We’re still waiting on final approval.”
A letter from the township regarding approval states the new public road would run through the Special Water Resource Protection Area but “the proposed project will not pose a threat to the environment, or public health, safety and welfare.”
The DEP proposes to grant a hardship waiver for encroachment for the protection area and has determined that storm water quality standards will be met, the letter says. The state department is seeking public comment prior to issuing the permit.
“The hardship was not created by any action or inaction of the applicant or its agents,” the letter says. “The applicant seeks to resolve a local traffic problem. The proposed project is the only prudent and feasible alignment to resolve the problem.”
Residents are given a 30-day period to comment on the issue, DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said. Once the comments are compiled, the DEP will prepare a comment response document, which will eventually lead to a final determination.
The debate of building a bypass road along the old Central Railroad of New Jersey has been in the planning stages for more than a decade.
“If and when we receive the permit, we’re going to look into it,” Dykoff said. “We did bond a significant amount of money.”
Municipal Clerk and Township Administrator Veronica Laureigh envisions the road to serve as an alternate for Route 9 and bypass the commercial arteries of Lacey Township, she previously said.
According to Laureigh, there would be no residential traffic coming to the new road. There would be a north and south lane from Lacey Road by the Forked River Elementary School heading north to South Street. When the road passes Hebrew Park it would run parallel to Warren Avenue and come out to Bay Way.
The DEP reached a settlement agreement with the township that could result in the issuance of permits, Ragonese said.
Lacey was originally denied the CAFRA permit because the DEP questioned the plans for stormwater control and buffers. The township filed an appeal and came back with a revised application addressing the deficiencies.
Modifications include a stormwater control system utilizing a vegetative filter; vegetative buffers between the road and residential and commercial properties, and a minimum of a 5-foot buffer between the bypass road and the planned recreational trail.
“Based on their submission, they complied with the requirements of DEP rules and we reached an agreement,” Ragonese said. “This triggers the 30-day comment period.”
Resident Lucy Wilson encourages those who received a registered letter from the township to voice their opinions.
“Read it carefully and if you are concerned, please write or phone the person listed in the final paragraph of the notification,” she said in an e-mail. “This action would effectively pave over our proposed linear park, which the Rail-Trail people have been attempting to preserve for many years.”
Wilson and her husband have been committed “protectors of the land” since 1984. “We both felt that preserving this linear park was important,” she said.
There are dangers associated with building a road and a trail on limited space and in such close proximity to an elementary school, she said.
Although the DEP will be considering public comment, the decision is primarily based on environmental issues, Ragonese said.
“Whether there’s a local sentiment about a path or proposed linear park, that has to be a local government decision,” he said. “[The township] came to us with a permit request on environmental issues. That’s our role there.”
Written comments regarding the proposed hardship exception can be sent to Charles Welch, Supervisor of the Land Use Regulation Program, P.O. Box 439, Trenton, NJ 08625 or by telephone at 609-777-0454. All comments must be received by Friday, Feb. 10.
To move forward on the project during these fiscal times “would be a huge mistake,” Committeeman Gary Quinn told Patch in January 2011.
The township has estimated the project to cost $3.2 million while an independent analysis paid for by the Lacey Township Rail-Trail Committee revealed that the project would cost between $14 million and $24 million.
However, Quinn still hopes to move forward with part of the project. He would like to build the section from Sunrise Boulevard to Lacey Road. This part of the project would help residents get across town, to the schools, and relieve traffic from Saint Pius the 10th Parish.
"That section makes all the sense in the world," Quinn said. Completing a portion of the project would also help determine if the rest of the project would be worth it, he said.
The township bonded for approximately $3 million in 2006, Dykoff said. So far, the township has paid for engineering, design and permitting fees, which leaves $2.148 million.
“Economic times change,” Dykoff said. “The money that’s left on the bond definitely would not be enough to build the entire road. If we could do a portion, that is something we would definitely look into and I would be in favor of.”
Dykoff points out that residents showed their support for the construction of the road in a referendum vote in 2006. Out of more than 17,000 registered voters, 9,259 came out to the polls; 5,742 favored the roadway and 3,628 opposed.
“There are people who are in favor of it and people opposed to it,” he said. “Unfortunately you can’t make everyone happy. I still speak to people and people that I speak to are in favor of building the road."
The Lacey Township Rail-Trail Committee has been fighting the proposed road for years.
"The project never has been able to meet the state regulations, as evidenced by two former NJDEP denials," Donna Bahrle of the Rail-Trail said. "This settlement is a politically motivated gift and will not stand up as a legitimate approval in court."
The traffic issues in Lacey Township revolve around the intersection of Route 9 and Lacey Road, which is set to be modified in the upcoming months, Bahrle said.
"This intersection improvement has been engineered, planned and endorsed by the NJDOT (Department of Transportation) to alleviate the bottlenecks that now exist on this section of Route 9," she said. "The township has never produced any substantiated proof that the bypass road (as the township calls it) would alleviate any traffic on Route 9."
The state DEP denied the township CAFRA approval in 2006 and 2010 citing that the roadway would not significantly alleviate Route 9 traffic, Bahrle said.
"As a taxpayer of Lacey Township, I am highly offended that the township has continued to pursue this project after two NJDEP permit denials," she said.
The township has spent nearly $1 million in engineering and legal fees in attempt to reach a settlement with the DEP, Bahrle said.
"[The call for public comment] is a final opportunity for interested parties who oppose the project for any reason, such as a waste of taxpayers’ money, pedestrian safety issues, environmental protection, to let the NJ DEP know that this is a poor project that is not wanted or needed in the township," she said.
The letter announcing the DEP's intent to issue a permit is attached to this article as a PDF.
For more information on the rail-trail, read “Township Debates Moving Forward on Rail-Trail Plan.”