Will Jersey City be reimbursed or compensated for added wear and tear on its local streets and public services as a result of the planned two-year closure of the Pulaski Skyway? That’s one of the lingering questions that still remains just one year before the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to begin a two-year renovation of the 81-year-old elevated bridge that handles between 64,000 and 70,000 crossings a day.
Beginning in March 2014, the DOT plans to close the two northbound lanes on the Pulaski, which will undergo a major resurfacing. Some of the structure’s steel foundation will also be repaired.
According to testimony given before the state Assembly Transportation Committee, which met in Union City last week instead of Trenton, the DOT expects that most of the motorists who currently use the bridge to get from Newark to the Holland Tunnel will use the Newark Bay Turnpike Extension during the two-year closure of the Pulaski. The agency also has plans in the works to open the northbound shoulder so motorists can use it as a lane.
‘We are playing an unfortunate game of triage, pushing cars from one bad road to another bad road.’ – John Wisniewski
Public officials who testified before the Transportation Committee fear the added traffic will create a gridlock nightmare on local streets, including streets that are in dire need of repair themselves.
“We aren’t aware of any DOT plans to improve local roadways that are going to see more traffic,” said Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-Hoboken), a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee. “We need to ask the DOT what they are doing.”
Committee Chairman John Wisniewski agreed, adding, “Where will the traffic go? We are playing an unfortunate game of triage, pushing cars from one bad road to another bad road.”
Burden on emergency services
The Assembly Transportation Committee got an earful of complaints from Hudson County public officials at the Feb. 28 hearing, who said the planned two-year closure of the northbound lanes on the Pulaski Skyway will wreak havoc on local streets in Jersey City, Hoboken, Kearny, and other municipalities and could have significant negative repercussions for businesses along the waterfront.
All who testified agreed the Pulaski Skyway is in need of major repairs that should be done now, rather than put off for the future.
But several local public officials – including Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, and members of the Jersey City Council – say they were stunned when they learned last month that the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s renovation plans for the Pulaski involved the closure of the bridge’s two northbound lanes. While some of them have since expressed support for the DOT’s plans, they still argue that more needs to be done to assist local municipalities that will be affected by the closure.
“We agree with the state. It must be done now,” Healy told the committee. But, he added, “We’re going to need some assistance. We should use this crisis to think out of the box.”
Healy said the state needs to explore more ways to expand and improve mass transit options, like the underutilized Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus and shuttle buses, and must improve local streets that are likely to see more usage during the Pulaski closure.
At present, there are no estimates on how much the Pulaski closure might cost Jersey City taxpayers.
In addition to added traffic on local streets, the city’s emergency services personnel, particularly the Jersey City Police Department, are likely to have an added burden thanks to the Pulaski renovation project.
DOT officials who appeared before the Assembly Transportation Committee testified that the agency expects the state police to handle most public safety matters related to the bridge renovation.
But committee member Charles Mainor (D-Jersey City) said, “I think you are fooling yourselves if you think the state police will handle all of the emergency services needs that are going to result from this. The local police are going to be involved. Other emergency personnel, ambulance services, fire departments are going to be involved. I think you really need to look at ways to compensate Jersey City, Kearny, and the other towns for the expense they’re going to incur protecting the public.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.