By Briana Vannozzi
With less than 16 hours until Pope Francis touches down in city of brotherly love, neighboring Camden has a message for pilgrims.
“We’re prepared for the high capacity that has been projected,” said Camden County Department of Public Safety Director Robin Blaker.
At the Camden County Joint Operations Center, more than 25 separate law enforcement agencies will be working together around the clock watching real time video and information feeds to ensure safety and security.
“We will have direct feeds to the main EOC in Philadelphia the New Jersey state police at the ROC in west Trenton and the Unified State command post run by the state police in Camden,” said Blaker.
“Those who park in the Camden waterfront will have access to the closest parking lots to the papal visits and they will also have the options of walking across the Ben Franklin Bridge, riding the PATCO train or crossing on the ferry. Again, three ways to get over to Philadelphia,” said Camden Mayor Dana Redd.
So far, PATCO has sold 18,000 tickets, there’s still more up for grabs. NJ Transit sold 3,300 as of this morning, with 24,000 left and Camden has roughly 8,000 out of 8,500 waterfront parking spots still waiting to be bought.
Estimates for visitors is down to about a million. Camden officials brushed off the notion that residents have been discouraged by traffic warnings and they’re urging people to take part. So, here’s what to expect if you live in the South Jersey region.
About 150,000 more cars on Jersey roadways this weekend.
The Ben Franklin Bridge shuts down at 10 p.m. Friday night.
Nearby roadways are also subject to intermittent closures and that includes entrance and exit ramps along I-295.
“For those who decide to walk, we want to remind you to please prepare to walk for distances. Wear your comfortable walking shoes,” said Redd.
“If you are not in good health or not used to exercising, you have to be careful because you’re not just going over the bridge. You have to come back and it’s going to be dark,” said Camden County Freeholder Michelle Gentek-Mayer.
Camden will have medical and police personnel stationed along designated pedestrian routes, which could be several miles long. That won’t stop the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, still making their way — like the Pahssey family from Michigan City, Indiana.
“I have goosebumps just talking about it. And I’m really excited to see their reaction and what they get out of it too,” said Christina Pahssey.
At a Burlington County hotel, busloads of pilgrims from the Gary Indiana Diocese rested up before the weekend’s events.
“We left about 7 a.m. and got here about 1:30, 2 o’clock in the morning,” said David Leydet. When asked if it’s worth the drive, he said, “Of course yes, it’s definitely going to be worth it, yes.”
And if you haven’t already finalized your travel plans to attend papal events in Philadelphia this weekend, security officials say your travel plans may truly be on a wing and a prayer.