Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

A bridge too far gone Business community prepares for economic impact of Pulaski closing

The Pulaski Skyway connects the state’s two largest cities: Newark and Jersey City.-(FILE PHOTO)

It was just after 6 o’clock last Monday morning when Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop arrived at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, coffee in-hand.Fulop peered out over 12 closed-circuit television monitors displaying various high-traffic areas throughout the city, looking for any signs of backup due to it being the first weekday of the much-feared, two-year northbound closure of the Pulaski Skyway.
Traffic that day ended up being a dog with way more bark than bite. But acknowledging that schools were largely out last week on spring break, Fulop called it a mere “dress rehearsal,” noting that the following week would be the real test.
Well, we’re here now.
Think about it. The Skyway not only connects the state’s two largest cities in Jersey City and Newark, but provides a much-traveled access route for thousands of commuters to New York via the Holland Tunnel.
According to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, roughly 40,000 vehicles that travel the route each day will now have to be rerouted. The morning rush-hour period of 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. accounts for 9,600 of those vehicles alone.
And not only is one of the country’s busiest airports just a few miles down on Routes 1 & 9, there’s also all of the trucks coming in and out of nearby ports of Newark and Elizabeth.
The current project underway is just a re-decking, NJDOT spokesperson Steve Shapiro said. But that will allow for motorists to begin using the bridge safely again in each direction until the total rehabilitation project is completed in 2020.
Shapiro estimates that upon completion, the project will expand the life of the Skyway by another 75 years.
“When we’re done, we’re going to have a bridge that will no longer be structurally deficient,” Shapiro said.
Fulop says he expects the shutdown’s effects to come and go in waves.
“I would anticipate that over the next couple of weeks, the ‘new normal’ will set in and people will get their routes down that they’re going to be using and that’s going to be that,” Fulop said.
“It’s going to become lighter in the summertime and then, come back to school, it’s going to be another period of inconvenience and then it’s going to go from there.”
Or, in other words, watch out for September, folks.
But Fulop points out that in the weeks and months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Sandy, both of which caused the shutdown of nearby tunnels or transit options, much of the same commuter doomsday rhetoric was voiced, but it didn’t materialize.
Commuters adapt, Fulop said.
“In each of those situations, people said many of the same things,” Fulop said. “‘What are drivers going to do?’ What are commuters going to do?’ And people are resourceful and they figure out the best routes.”
And what about businesses in the area, particularly near the port and airport?
Shapiro and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman Chris Valens both said they had reached out to port users, terminal operators and airport officials well in advance, informing them of what was coming.
For instance, Valens said that in addition to all regular port customers receiving information packets and email blasts about the shutdown, flyers were distributed among taxi drivers. Airport customers are also being made aware of what to expect.
“We’ve done that outreach over the last month or so at all of our facilities,” Valens said.
In a hat tip to NJDOT, Valens said the department has done a nice job in making sure the vast majority of travelers through North Jersey are well-informed about the Skyway’s status.
Shapiro said NJDOT has made information on alternative vehicle and public transportation routes available on the project’s website, pulaskiskyway.com, and is providing real-time traffic updates on 511nj.org and on Twitter via @skywayrehab.
“We’re just encouraging folks to know their options, know their alternatives,” Shapiro said.
Still, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Government Relations Michael Egenton said he wishes — if just for the sake of business in the region — that it didn’t have to come to this.
This latest two-year patchwork effort is the result of not enough attention being paid to infrastructure investment over the years, he said.
No one doubts that the bridge needs to be rehabbed. But Egenton says had it been properly planned for a decade or so in advance, perhaps the funding could have been secured that would have allowed businesses to continue as usual in this highly congested corridor.
“It’s kind of a sad commentary that we’ve gotten to that point that we’ve allowed the bridge to be in that deplorable of shape,” Egenton said.
E-mail to: andrewg@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrgeorge

Andrew George

NJBIZ Business Events