By Ricardo Kaulessar
â€œIt is a hell of an inconvenience but itâ€™s for a good cause.â€
State Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Jersey City) hopes the 40,000 drivers who take the Pulaski Skyway daily will feel the same way as he does as the 82-year-old bridgeâ€™s two northbound lanes will be closed starting this Saturday for the next two years to rebuild the bridge deck.
Mainor was one of several state and local officials, including Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who were in attendance for a press conference Thursday at Casino-in-the-Park in Jersey City to address the traffic issues for commuters as a result of the closing of the lanes as part of the stateâ€™s eight-year $1.2 billion Pulaski Skyway Rehabilitation Project.
The project, which began in 2012, started with the cleaning and examination of the current steel structure and also includes the rehabilitation of the Route 139 Hoboken and Conrail Viaducts that lead into the skyway, rehabilitation of the Kearny and Broadway (Jersey City) ramps to the Skyway, repairs to the steel, seismic retrofit of the substructure and painting of the newly repaired steel.
Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson spoke for a half-hour about the dire necessity for this phase of the project, and the various ways to deal with the additional traffic that will come into Jersey City from Newark and Kearny to connect to the Holland Tunnel as well as other parts of Hudson County, which they normally do by traveling across the skyway.
Simpson pointed out that the Pulaski Skyway, built in 1932, has been rated â€œstructurally deficitâ€ by the federal government since 1983. The structurally deficient tag for a bridge, issued by the Federal Highway Administration in their National Bridge Inventory, means that while not in danger of collapse, it has structural defects that require attention immediately to prevent further deterioration. He also said that the four-lane, 3.5-mile structure is actually in worse condition that the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed in August 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145.
Simpson then said that while people will be frustrated by the closing of one-half of the Skyway, he said it was crucial that it had to be done as soon as possible to allow for around-the-clock construction work to re mediate over 80 years of wear and tear.
â€œSimply put, weâ€™re out of time,â€ Simpson said. â€œIf we donâ€™t do this now, we literally might wake up one morning and find ourselves facing an emergency closure of the entire bridge. In fact, we have had some emergency closures in the last couple of years.â€
He then said that the plan to cut down on vehicles that usually transverse the Skyway will involve increase mass transit options including additional service on three NJ Transit train lines during peak morning and evening hours, new bus service from a park-and-ride lot near Newark Airport to downtown Jersey City, new ferry service from southern New Jersey to Jersey City, and more PATH train departures from Newark Penn Station. Simpson added that those options will help to eliminate an estimated 9,600 cars during the AM rush.
And then thereâ€™s the traffic congestion measures implemented within Jersey City that will be enforced by 55 off-duty police officers paid for by the DOT. Those actions include AM turn restrictions throughout the city, and parking and stopping regulations on Communipaw Avenue from Route 440 to Grand Street and Grand Street and on Grand Street from Communipaw Avenue to Fairmount Avenue during weekday peak travel hours.
Jersey City Mayor Fulop said that within the first two weeks of the Skyway lanes being closed, all the traffic difficulties will be worked out so that travel in and out of the city will be easier going forward.
â€œI am 100 percent confident that we will figure it out,â€ Fulop said. â€œWhenever there has been issues like this, you see residents and drivers and government work together to solve those situations.â€
The city of Jersey Cityâ€™s website, http://www.jerseycitynj.gov, has more information about the cityâ€™s traffic mitigation efforts pertaining to the Pulaski Skyway closure. The DOT has set up a website, www.pulaskiskyway.com, where information about the Skyway rehab project is posted.