Championing a highway widening project on the side of an already unwalkable stretch of road cutting in half a town without any access to rail and a history of incongruous (and ethically challenged, to say the least) overdevelopment, Governor Phil Murphy this past week grabbed a shovel and declared Hillsborough “one of New Jersey’s true gemstone communities.”
Multiple public figures traipsed to a podium to make serious public remarks about the “critical” nature of the mile-long project, a state Department of Transportation-funded $41 million bypass that would add two lanes of highway. Murphy proclaimed a love for the town’s “tightknit, affordable neighborhoods and commitment to preserving open space,” and announced the expansion as an enhancement of Hillsborough’s “neighborhood feel.”
What he didn’t mention was that the Somerset town has a history of farmlands unhinged to corporate developers without regard for environmental plans and absent any consideration of how an almost overnight eruption of concrete and asphalt would impact schools and public infrastructure.
Somerset County reporter Bill Bowman, then working for the Courier News, did an explosive story in the late 1990’s on how the Planning Board was controlled by a group of shadowy investors, merely trying to carrry out their version of whatever everyone else was doing in Hillsborough at the time.
To this day, “We don’t have a master plan,” Donetta Johnson, a business owner and local community activist, told InsiderNJ.
But that was hardly relevant here as Murphy assured, “Let’s make no mistake. It’s not just about laying new pavement. This plan has been a re-envisioning of how an arterial highway can breathe new life into a community and shows how the needs of smart development.”
If Orwell was rolling in his grave somewhere, the skin of Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel was visibly crawling.
The retiring hell-raiser fired off a press release on the heels of Murphy and company’s announcement.
“Today they broke ground on starting the last phase of the Route 206 Bypass project,” Tittel said. “This project is everything that’s wrong with New Jersey’s transportation and land use planning. Hillsborough overdeveloped along Route 206, and now we’re rewarding them by building a bypass road that they can sprawl out along even more. All this bypass will do is bring more traffic and development to an area that already has too much traffic and development. This will be used to pave over the last pieces of open space in the area. Instead of celebrating a groundbreaking, the Governor should have stopped this project. This is a bad project in a bad place at a bad time. It is a symbol of waste that will only cause more traffic problems and more pollution.
“This is nothing more than Pay to Pave,” he added. “Developers and contractors and others that gave a lot of campaign donations now get to help set policy. This project was originally pushed by Republicans and was stopped by a Democratic town. Now a Democratic governor is pushing forward with it. What’s worse is that this project will bring back the Route 92 project to connect to the New Jersey Turnpike, which is another project that was stopped. When it comes to the Department of Traffic (DOT), the only time they delist a project is when they build it.”