TRANSPORTATION

Murphy levels with commuters on eve of Route 495 lane closures

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

“Let us not kid anyone. This is the very definition, the quintessential good news, bad news story,” said the governor at a press conference Friday morning in North Bergen.

Governor Murphy’s good news: the 80-year-old bridge carrying traffic over routes 1 & 9 to the Lincoln tunnel will get a desperately-needed, $90 million makeover. But the very bad news: workers will close one lane in each direction on route 495 over the bridge. And squeezing 9,200 vehicles per hour through that bottleneck during the rush will create a commuting nightmare of near-biblical proportions.

“Traffic along this stretch has never been easy. For the next two and a half years, it’s going to be worse. There’s no doubt about that,” Murphy admitted. “Anyone looking for a quick shortcut is going to be left disappointed.”

“If you can find an alternate means to get into the city, please do,” added DOT commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

Commuters have few good options. Among them: use a park-and-ride to take a bus. The Exclusive Bus Lane will remain open. Try alternate crossings like the George Washington and Goethals Bridges, or the Holland Tunnel. Take the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to the ferry. You can carpool. But be warned: police in towns along the route will ticket motorists who block local streets while seeking shortcuts. Oh, and leave early, because, according to Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti:

“If you choose to use this route then you’ve made a choice to, at some point in time, probably sit in some congestion. Please be patient.”

Not a great alternative? NJ Transit trains, which keep getting canceled while the agency installs Positive Train Control safety braking gear. A critical engineer shortage has also sidelined even more trains every day, often with little to no advance warning. Gov. Murphy’s proposed a quick fix: fast-track legislation to waive New Jersey’s residency law so transit officials can speed-hire engineers from out-of-state. But that proposal could get derailed. Senate President Steve Sweeney insists NJ Transit should instead follow through on its request for immediate waivers from a special committee over at the state Department of Labor.

“We have in the past and we haven’t always had success with getting those waivers. So what this would do is, instead of asking us to go through this every time we have an out-of-state candidate, the legislation just allows it to happen automatically,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti explained.

“That process is a little bit of a death by 1,000 cuts,” added Murphy.

Sweeney says the residency waiver’s already baked into a comprehensive NJ Transit reform bill — but that’s currently on hold, while lawmakers await the results of an agency audit Gov. Murphy ordered months ago. Call this another potential political traffic jam. Meanwhile, the real deal’s looming large on Route 495. There’s a website with updates.

The lane closures start Friday night at 9 o’clock. Monday’s rush hour will be commuters’ first experience with what’s predicted to be a descent into traffic hell.