The closure of the northbound lanes of the Pulaski Skyway for a long-term rehabilitation project began Saturday and today was the first day that commuters had to deal with the closures. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that today was a good dress rehearsal for the project since it’s a holiday week and fewer cars are on the road.
According to Fulop, the first morning commute went well. He started the morning at the Office of Emergency Management where he was able to visually see all areas of the city, including crucial intersections. Later, he took a helicopter ride to see how traffic was moving from above.
Fulop described traffic as “relatively light,” citing the holiday week. The plan was to start the closure on the weekend and gradually build up to a normal commute that will happen next week. “All our models have worked pretty well so it’s been a good story,” he said.
The mayor also praised the state Department of Transportation. “They’ve been great. They’ve given us the resources that we’ve asked for. They’ve been great partners in this so I’m not gonna complain about them at all. They’ve actually been really, really helpful,” Fulop said.
Before the closures, Fulop had suggested he might declare a state of emergency for Jersey City. While he said officials have the legal paperwork for such a declaration ready to go, he doesn’t think it will be necessary if conditions continue as they have today. “We don’t want to circumvent the city council or legislative process unless we really have to,” he said.
If the same traffic patterns persist for the duration of the project, Fulop said the city would be in a great place. “But unfortunately I recognize that next week and the following week will be more difficult so we’re gonna take it day by day,” he said.
While the project is expected to take two years, Fulop said two years in “government time” could be four or five years. But he said the rehabilitation project is necessary. “If you go underneath the Pulaski Skyway, you realize it’s corroding and it’s just a matter of time before something was to happen there that would’ve been really horrible. In addition, the way that whole highway is formatted is antiquated,” he said.
The rehabilitation will improve the roadway and is necessary, according to Fulop. “There was no good choice. You close it down and do limited work for six, seven, eight years or we close down one direction entirely and it’s two years. So we picked the best of horrible choices and we’re gonna work through it. The new normal’s gonna settle in and we’ll move forward,” he said.
As the project continues, Fulop said Jersey City will settle into a new normal. “We saw it after Sandy, we saw it after 9/11 where they shut down major arteries or infrastructure,” he said. “People were very concerned about what would happen. People are resourceful. They find a way. So we’re gonna adjust and when it does reopen in two years, obviously it’ll be another significant boon for us and a benefit as far as access goes.”
Fulop also said he hopes people get more accustomed to taking mass transportation and it becomes their mode of transportation of choice to access Jersey City and New York City.
A picture of Fulop and basketball star Shaquille O’Neal that Fulop posted on his Twitter page caught some attention. O’Neal was carrying Fulop, who was giving the thumbs up sign. Fulop explained that he had dinner with O’Neal on Saturday to discuss ways to get him involved in Jersey City. O’Neal has lived in Jersey City, Newark and Bayonne and still has family in the area.
“We took a picture at the end. We’re like for a joke, I’m gonna lift you up and if you see the picture, I look like I’m a little rag doll. It was fun. It was a great thing. He’s a great role model. Really important for kids in Newark, Jersey City and Bayonne that you can achieve anything in life as long as you’re willing to work for it,” said Fulop.