Officials are urging motorists to plan their alternate as the northbound lanes of the Pulaski Skyway between Newark and Jersey City will close for two years starting Saturday.
“We recognize that there is going to be a tremendous amount of pain for everyone who lives and travels in this corridor,” New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson said. “However, this project eliminates the potential for unimaginable disruptions that would occur were it necessary to completely shut down the Skyway.”
Several expanded or new public transportation options have launched in connection with the project, and improvements have been made to several major roadways to help accommodate higher traffic volumes.
NJDOT has launched a massive, $1 billion project to rehabilitate the 81-year-old, 3.5-mile-long structurally deficient bridge that accommodates 74,000 cars daily.
“Commuters beware,” Simpson said. "Despite our best efforts to expand roadway capacity during the closure, it is impossible to squeeze the 40,000 vehicles that travel northbound on the Skyway every day—including nearly 10,000 during the a.m. peak period—onto already congested alternate routes.”
The decision to close northbound lanes
Decades of exposure to water, salt and harsh weather has caused severe corrosion to important steel bridge deck components. NJDOT’s decision to advance the deck-replacement project in a manner that prohibits northbound travel on the Skyway for two years followed careful consideration of numerous construction options, according to an NJDOT statement.
Eliminating northbound traffic promotes public safety, because it allows the Department to replace the entire bridge deck in less time than other methods would require. It also presents far more alternative travel options for motorists than would be available if the southbound travel were to be prohibited. Keeping the traffic flowing in the southbound direction during the project preserves predictable travel times to Newark Airport, a vital link to the region’s economy, and it prevents traffic from backing up into the Holland Tunnel and lower Manhattan.
Some methods, such as working nights and weekends only, would require at least six years. The Department is not confident that the existing deck would last that long, even with interim repairs. It also would create weekly risks that the travel lanes would be unexpectedly unavailable for Monday morning commutes.
The chosen method gives the contractor full access to half of the deck, allowing for a 24/7 work schedule that shaves years off the time that it would otherwise take to strengthen the structurally deficient bridge. It ensures that all Skyway traffic will be operating on a sturdy, brand-new bridge deck within one year from now.
Public safety influenced the decision in another way as well. NJDOT cannot rebuild the nearby structurally deficient I-495 bridge over Routes 1&9 in Union City (Hudson County) until the Skyway is reopened. The Department considers it unwise to put off that project for six years. Completing the deck project in two years also allows the Route 7 Wittpenn Bridge replacement project to proceed on schedule. The availability of all Skyway lanes will support traffic mitigation efforts when the Wittpenn Bridge project requires lane closures.
All four Skyway travel lanes, two northbound and two southbound, will be completely rebuilt during the two years when northbound travel will be prohibited. Motorists generally will continue to have the normal complement of two southbound travel lanes during the two years. Once the northbound lanes are rebuilt, southbound traffic will be shifted to those lanes, allowing construction crews to rebuild the southbound lanes.
Newark, Kearny and Jersey City emergency responders will continue to cooperate to respond to incidents on the Skyway as quickly as possible. While the Kearny and Broadway ramps will be closed to traffic, they will be available for first responders. Kearny police officers will be stationed at the top of each ramp to respond to incidents and manage traffic in a way that enables first responders to get to the scene as quickly as possible. Newark police officers will be assigned to key intersections to help keep traffic moving on local streets near that end of the Skyway.
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 (www.hudsontma.org and www.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 www.pulaskiskyway.com, where a video to familiarize motorists and residents with the project is posted. The video is also on You Tube – search “Pulaski Skyway.”Follow the project on Twitter @skywayrehab and get up to the minute information on traffic conditions in and around the Skyway at www.511nj.org, where a widget will enable a visitor to cut through all the other traffic information on the site and focus in on the Skyway region.