"Stay off the roads," said North Bergen Police traffic commander Lt. James Somers. "It's a nightmare. There's nothing else to say about it other than it's a nightmare."
"I don't recall it ever being worse," North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said. "It took me a half hour to get to Town Hall from my home."
Traffic was bad enough already because the state Department of Transportation has been doing major construction along Tonnelle Avenue, especially around the intersection of 69th Street. It's a project that will continue for at least the next two years, maybe longer.
And now, Hudson County has decided to make improvements to the other main north/south thoroughfare, namely Kennedy Boulevard, for the next three weeks.
The county project has included new sidewalks for most of north Hudson, and is now including the milling and repaving of the entire stretch of the county road that includes North Bergen, Union City, West New York, and Guttenberg.
While the county improvement project affects portions of the other three municipalities, it covers North Bergen border to border.
North Bergen officials were told Wednesday that the project, which included the closing of several streets that intersect Kennedy Boulevard as well to insure the proper paving process, will continue for another three weeks, maybe more.
From Monday through Wednesday, crews were working on the stretch between 32nd and 57th Streets, closing off half of Kennedy Boulevard while the blacktop paving was installed.
All of the streets that came up from Tonnelle Avenue to Kennedy Boulevard were closed because of the paving process.
Needless to say, it's one gigantic gridlock. Some motorists said that it took the better part of an hour to make their way from the northern part of the township to Town Hall (midway mark at 44th Street) along Kennedy Boulevard.
"We had warned everyone about the construction on Tonnelle Avenue," Sacco said. "The county construction caught us all by surprise. I understand that they have to do the work and they cannot wait until the work on Tonnelle is done. But it's very inconvenient for everyone in the area."
The traffic headaches even led to what became a humorous exchange between Sacco and local political gadfly Herb Shaw at the regularly scheduled Board of Commissioners' meeting.
"It was bad engineering and planning to have the two major roads in the town being repaired at the same time," Shaw said in the public portion of the meeting. "These are two parallel roads and this ties up everything. It's ridiculous."
"I would have to agree, Herb," Sacco said to the man who has been his opponent in several elections about 20 times over the last 20 years. "I agree it wasn't great timing. But what is the county supposed to do, wait four or five years for Tonnelle Avenue to be done? It's causing hardship for everyone."
Shaw continued to voice his displeasure, when Sacco said, "You know, there are [Hudson County] freeholder meetings that you can attend, Herb."
Shaw countered, "I know, but I can't there. The roads are clogged. Change that from clogged to constipated."
What happens when it gets worse?
If the problems are bad now, then what will take place when the Kennedy Boulevard work moves to the northern part of the township and includes the front of North Bergen High School?
"It's going to be very difficult when they hit the high school with the buses and the students being dropped off," Sacco said. "It's going to be an adventure."
"I think we all have to come up with a game plan for that," Somers said. "Something has to designed for when the work reaches the high school area."
Somers said that the county has hired a number of his off-duty police officers to help with the traffic flow. Union City and West New York have also received emergency assistance from the county in terms with hiring off-duty police officers for traffic duty.
"At least that's taking a strain off the police department," Somers said.
Sacco said that although the work on Kennedy Boulevard has been a massive headache for every motorist, he applauded the work being done.
"They're doing a good job and it is work that should last a long time," Sacco said. "A lot of residents are getting new sidewalks out of it."
What to do
County officials told North Bergen officials that the work on the Boulevard should be completed "within two to three weeks" and that the work is running according to schedule.
"We spoke to the county to see if the work on the Boulevard could possibly be done at night, but that was not an option," Somers said. "So we have what we have."
Somers said that if a motorist has to travel from one end of North Bergen to the other, the best bet for the time being would be West Side Avenue. However, don't take 69th Street down to West Side, because there just might be a CSX freight train blocking traffic there from time to time.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org