By Ron Leir
Better adjust your travel plans because it’s coming … finally.
The long-anticipated – and long-dreaded – big fix to the 80-year-old Pulaski Skyway will begin next month, according to the state Department of Transportation.
The DOT announcement, which was quietly posted on the DOT website on Feb. 24, says that, “Saturday, April 12 will mark the start of an approximate two-year period for construction activity connected to the $1 billion Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation project, which will improve road and travel conditions in both the northbound and southbound lanes across the deck of the 3.5-mile bridge.”
Work will start with repairs to the two northbound lanes. “When that work is completed,” the DOT explains, “southbound traffic will be shifted to the new northbound bridge deck. This shift will allow workers to rebuild the two travel lanes that normally carry southbound traffic.”
DOT reminds motorists that, “Motorists will be unable to travel in the northbound direction, from Newark to Jersey City, for the duration of the construction period.”
Once that happens, it will spawn nasty consequences for local travelers forced to take alternate routes, particularly through the South Kearny area, predicts Kearny Police Sgt. John Manley, deputy coordinator of the town’s Office of Emergency Management.
The closure, Manley said, “is going to increase traffic to roads already taxed to the maximum,” such as Truck Rt. 1&9, Rt. 7 (Belleville Turnpike) and Harrison Ave., with the “biggest impact” expected during the morning rush.
Secondary thoroughfares like Fish House Road, Second St. and Hackensack Ave. – all of which loop through South Kearny – will also be congested, Manley said.
And, since all those roads – particularly Rt. 7 and Harrison Ave. – flood during rainstorms, that could be a recipe for traffic gridlock, Manley said.
Similarly, Manley warned, a disabled car or accident on the Skyway – with the South Kearny exit ramp, and all exit ramps, being closed to southbound commuters (but open to emergency providers) – will potentially cause hours of delay. “An incident on the Skyway will back up traffic into the [Holland] Tunnel and into Manhattan,” he said.
Worst possible scenario is the closure “is going to double people’s travel times,” Manley said. “I would encourage people to leave early to get to their destination.”
Another severe winter like the one now being experienced will only compound the travel complexities, Manley said.
Not to mention the issue of the Norfolk & Southern freight line that hauls industrial wastes out of the South Kearny area. Manley said there are negotiations involving the rail line, CSX (which controls the rail yard), the waste company, Kearny and the DOT to try and limit the train’s movements to off-peak hours.
If the “garbage train” plods along during morning or afternoon peak times, “traffic will come to a standstill in South Kearny,” Manley predicted, and “emergency responses will be delayed for hours.” Manley said that Kearny police, fire and EMS representatives have been meeting periodically with their counterparts from Jersey City, Newark and the Port Authority of N.Y. & N.J. to discuss the logistics of getting to accidents and the like during the closure.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” he said.
For its part, DOT says it has worked for more than a year “to develop alternate routes and travel modes for the motorists who currently travel in the northbound direction on the Skyway, which carries Rt. 1&9 traffic,” and which is most crowded between 6 and 9 a.m. when an estimated 9,600 cars head toward Jersey City, Hoboken, other Hudson County destinations, and New York.
As alternate routes, DOT recommends drivers consider taking:
• N.J. Turnpike Newark Bay
• Hudson County Extension (I-78) where an eastbound shoulder will be converted to a third travel lane during morning and evening rush to handle an additional 4,500 cars.
• N.J. Turnpike Eastern Spur, projected to accommodate an additional 1,500 cars during morning rush.
• Truck Rt. 1&9, where “adaptive traffic signal control technology and intersection and entrance ramp improvements” will help take almost 1,700 more cars. To deal with “crashes, breakdowns and other incidents,” DOT “is staging state Safety Service Patrol trucks and two trucks to respond to incidents as quickly as possible.”
On the public transportation front, DOT says the P.A. and NJ Transit are taking steps to increase ridership capacity on its train and bus services. The P.A., for example, will add more PATH departures from Newark Penn Station to accommodate 6,000 additional riders. NJ Transit is adding trips on the Morris & Essex Lines between Summit and Hoboken Terminal, on the North Jersey Coast Line between Bay Head and Hoboken and the Raritan Valley Line to and from Newark Penn Station.
Also, DOT will provide monthly $325 subsidies to NJ Transit through the Hudson County TMA “to support up to 10 new vanpools” to handle about 100 commuters. DOT and the Hudson TMA “are visiting work sites to provide employees with a clear summary of their [travel] options.”
Meanwhile, DOT is continuing work on replacement of the Rt. 7 Wittpenn Bridge over the Hackensack River with a new $480 million vertical lift bridge rising parallel to and 250 feet north of the existing bridge. It will carry two 12-foot lanes, a 12-foot auxiliary lane and an 8-to-12-foot shoulder in each direction, plus a 6-foot sidewalk along the eastern roadway. An 8-foot median with barrier will separate opposing traffic flows. Pedestrians and bicycles will be accommodated. The new lift will allow for a minimum vertical clearance of 70 feet above mean high tide in the closed position – double the capacity of the existing span.
Part of the job calls for reconstruction of a portion of Fish House Road, construction of a pump station and pipe jacking under railroads. Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said that his understanding is that, “DOT will be sinking Fish House Road to get sufficient overhead coverage for trucks.” As for the pump facility, Santos said that Fish House Road “floods with normal rain events.”
Work is proceeding in five phases:
Contract 1 calls for construction of river piers and fender system, and a pier protection system on either side of the channel consisting of “73 eight-foot diameter drilled shafts that are anchored into rock.” This phase will be done by summer 2014.
Contract 2 provides for off-line portions of the bridge on the Jersey City side, including construction of several piers, superstructure, base supports for sign structures, barrier gate and warning gate supports, and utility relocations. This work should be done by fall 2014.
Contract 3A calls for construction of a pump station, surcharge for Fish House Road abutments, reconstruction of part of Fish House Road and pipe jacking under railroads. Fish House Road and ramps to and from Fish House Road to Rt. 7 will be closed for two weekends. Contract 3 will see construction of the new vertical lift span, with control and machinery houses, lift span towers on the piers already built and the Kearny approach, and construction of off-line portion of the main lift span on the Kearny side, including piers and superstructure, base supports for signs and barrier gate.
Contract 4 will provide for construction of the final bridge and approach roadways and improvements to the Fish House Road interchange, plus new connection ramps to Newark Ave. and St. Paul’s Ave., demolition of old bridge, and utility relocations.
The entire job should be completed by summer 2020.