The day of reckoning came and went for commuters who use the Pulaski Skyway to get into Jersey City or lower Manhattan. And it wasn't nearly as bad as expected, at least for one day.
Inbound traffic is being detoured on the 82-year-old span for the next two years for repairs. The bridge officially closed on Saturday. When the inbound lanes are completed in about a year, outbound traffic will use those lanes so that the outbound lanes can be repaired.
Jersey City, where the delays were expected to be the most prevalent, deployed more than 50 police officers to direct traffic through the city.
But luckily, school vacations and a holiday week combined to keep traffic light and give commuters a break from what figures to be a long haul in the coming months.
"We're somewhat surprised, to say the least," Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said as he stood in front of a bank of video screens at the city's emergency management headquarters that showed intersections in the city where backups were expected to form. Midway through the morning commute, traffic moved smoothly on all the screens.
"This is kind of like a dress rehearsal for next Monday," Fulop added. "But the dress rehearsal is going well."
James Shea, Jersey City's director of public safety, said his department was prepared to have the officers available for the entire two-year project but added that he hoped to be able to reduce them once motorists become familiar with the new patterns.
The Skyway, which carries an estimated 40,000 commuters each day toward Jersey City and the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan - 74,000 vehicles total both ways - needs $1 billion in repairs to what engineers say is a decrepit, crumbling structure.
The iconic 3.5-mile steel truss bridge, opened in 1932, is an iconic New Jersey symbol, featured in Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast War of the Worlds, and in the opening credits of the television series The Sopranos.
Transportation Commissioner James Simpson says the shutdown is going to have a ripple effect on the region, and that while the Pulaski was sound, it had been "structurally deficit" for 35 years and received a worse inspection rating than the I-35 bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007, killing 13 people. He says they can no longer waste time putting a Band-Aid over areas of the bridge that desperately need repairs.
"If we don't do this now, we literally might wake up one morning and find ourselves facing an emergency closure of the entire bridge," Simpson said. "Simply put, we're out of time...In report-card terms, as the engineers like to say sometimes, this bridge is a D-minus and about to become an F."
Alternatives for commuters:
NJ TRANSIT is adding capacity to accommodate nearly 3,000 additional rail or bus customers each morning peak period. New or enhanced private bus and ferry service adds another 950 seats for those who choose to park and ride.
NJ TRANSIT has increased morning and evening peak period capacity on Morris and Essex Lines trains, Raritan Valley Line trains and North Jersey Coast Line trains. Trains to Hoboken Terminal provide customers with good connections to NYC via PATH or ferry and to Jersey City via NJ TRANSIT's Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line.
NJ TRANSIT also has launched an express bus service along the Route 22 corridor to Newark Penn Station. PANYNJ has increased the frequency of its train departures from Newark Penn Station, increasing capacity by approximately 6,000 customers each morning.
Seastreak, the ferry operator in Atlantic Highlands, will offer new service to Paulus Hook in Jersey City and Hoboken Terminal, giving coastal commuters an option that frees them from congested roadways. Fares are $12 each way.
Suburban Transit, a private bus company, will provide new bus service from a park-and-ride lot near Newark Liberty International Airport located just west of Route 1&9 and south of I-78 in Newark, with service to Grove Street and Exchange Place in Jersey City. Free parking is available for 650 cars, and the bus fare, subsidized by NJDOT, is just $2. This may very well be a best bet for many drivers.
Car and van pools are another way motorists can help reduce the overall number of vehicles on the road. Regional Transportation Management Associations (HundsonTMA.org and EZRide.org) can help motorists connect with others who are interested in these options. 1-800-245-POOL is a state hotline for carpooling information. The Hudson County TMA can help motorists learn about new vanpool opportunities.
Employees are encouraged to discuss flextime and telecommuting opportunities with their employers to help shift or reduce travel away from the morning peak period of 6 a.m.-9 a.m.
The most significant new capacity for motorists will be on the New Jersey Turnpike Extension between Exits 14 and 14C. NJDOT has paid for upgrades to the right shoulder on the I-78 Turnpike Extension (Exits 14A-14C) to carry a third lane of eastbound traffic during morning and evening peak periods. 5,700 additional vehicles will be accommodated each morning peak period. Drivers who do choose to use the Turnpike can save time at the toll plazas by opening an E-ZPass account.
Route 1&9 T has been improved with wider entrance ramps in Newark and traffic signal improvements to handle as many as 1,700 additional vehicles during the morning peak.
The New Jersey Turnpike Eastern Spur to Lincoln Tunnel is expected to accommodate an additional 1,920 cars during the morning peak.
Private bus carriers that operate 105 buses on the Skyway northbound lanes have agreed to try an alternate route for those buses going to Manhattan. They will use the Goethals Bridge and Staten Island Expressway to NYC. Dozens of Variable Message signs will display trip times to help motorists alter their route and select the least-congested roadway to their destination each day.
The Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation project has been divided into 10 contracts, with work continuing into the year 2020. The deck replacement work over the next two years falls under contracts 3 and 4.
NJDOT has developed a webpage dedicated to the project at PulaskiSkyway.com, where a video to familiarize motorists and residents with the project is posted.