By David Cruz
Beginning tomorrow and extending for the next three months, at least, a road rehabilitation project at the Alexander Hamilton Bridge on the New York side will cause delays on the eastbound approaches to the George Washington Bridge, especially during the morning rush. Traffic jams could stretch for miles and it’s got residents and officials in towns from Fort Lee to Hackensack bracing for tie-ups which have even these traffic jam veterans shaking in their boots.
“Well, I’m very nervous because when something happens at the bridge to begin with you can tell because traffic is way into Teaneck,” said Leonia resident Janet Bastar.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich says he’s bracing for the worst, starting early Monday morning.
“You’re first going to see it start backing up on I-95, Route 80, Route 46 and the thoroughfares that feed into the bridge,” said Sokolich. “Once they start to back up, it’s like a hose with the pressure building and building, then starts to spring leaks. Those leaks then bring you into the Borough of Fort Lee.”
Sokolich says when there’s an accident on the bride or even on the Cross Bronx on the other side, traffic spills over into his town and those around it, so it’s not especially new, but the volume of traffic and the duration of the resulting traffic jams will be longer. To hedge against this, the mayor says he’s going to use aggressive traffic policing.
“If we see that we’re in the midst of gridlock that’s going to affect response time by ambulances, response times by volunteer firefighters or response times by police, we’ll start shutting roads down,” he said. “I’ll suffer the consequences later but the priority is the safety of our residents, bottom line.”
Officials are recommending that you use any alternative route you can find, whether it’s mass transit, ferry service or other cross Hudson spans, but one thing they say they don’t want you to do, and the one thing they say they are going to make sure you don’t do, is use local streets to save time.
Leonia Mayor John DeSimone says, contrary to what you may have heard, he’s not shutting down his town. “No, we’re not going to close down our town; we’re just going to close one exit to prevent traffic from coming up the one lane road, Fort Lee Road,” he pointed out. “That’s our problem and it’s Fort Lee’s problem, too. People get off at 80, 95 and try to take the shortcut to the bridge and what it does is create gridlock for Leonia and Fort Lee.”
DeSimone says it’s not that he doesn’t want you to come to his town, just don’t try it during rush hour. Still, he’s going to have to get at least county approval to shut down roads, something he said he hopes to get. And that’s kind of what’s worrying officials. Some towns have formal action plans, others are just hoping for the best, assuming that the traffic will ease once motorists see what they’re up against. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg says she’s going to get officials together in the hopes of not only getting everyone on the same page, but also to get some help from the Port Authority, the DOT or someone for towns around the GWB.
“There’s probably a lot they can do, whether it means helping with some extra police at certain times, whether it means helping with communications, and I think they’ve done a good job with the forewarning; whether it means running a special bus near a place where people can park their cars and get over, so there’s a whole variety of things they can do so that’s why we’re having this meeting,” she said.
The Yankees are playing at home this weekend. One county official says that will be a good test to see what this traffic will look like, but the bottom line is, whether they have a formal action plan in place or not, nobody knows what’s going to happen until Monday morning.