Officials said that heavy traffic congestion will continue on local streets at least into the fall, caused by a five-month construction project on North Marginal Highway in Weehawken that is blocking traffic heading to Route 495 west.
North Marginal, located Boulevard East and Pleasant Avenue, is a main access route for motorists trying to get onto Route 495 west, which runs parallel to the highway near the Lincoln Tunnel. The other two major on-ramps are Kennedy Boulevard and Tonnelle Avenue, but the township is not recommending either alternate route.
“There are no viable alternatives,” said Weehawken Director of Public Safety Jeff Welz. No other westbound streets can handle such a large volume of traffic, he added, because most of them are single-lane roads. “It’s going to be a major inconvenience,” he said, “but the bridge was becoming a danger and was in need of serious repair.”
“There are no viable alternatives.” – Jeff Welz
Two of the road’s three lanes are blocked, causing delays of up to 15 minutes during off hours and much longer during rush hour.
Construction began May 24, the two lane closures began on July 6, and the project is scheduled for completion in November.
“The problem is that the bridge is so narrow,” said Welz. “Although the road has three lanes, you need to close two to create a safety barrier for the construction workers.”
In a written press release, the New Jersey Department of Transportation called the bridge’s road deck “structurally deficient.” In addition to replacing the surface, improved sidewalks will also be added.
According to Welz, the highway was constructed around the same time as the elevated entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, or “helix,” which was built in 1955.
“Both North Marginal and its counterpart, South Marginal, were built to bypass the helix running the distance from Kennedy Boulevard to Boulevard East,” he said.
A township police officer directing traffic at the construction site last week said that although the project is causing delays, the slower traffic is making the highway much safer.
Although there is little the township can do to ease congestion, local officials said they will make sure traffic flows as efficiently as possible, especially on Boulevard East.
“It’s critical we make sure traffic keeps moving in those areas,” Welz said. “We have two or more officers there for four hours during the morning and four hours during the evening rush hours trying to keep that intersection clear.”
The fear for authorities would be a blockage of Boulevard East, a main artery for emergency personnel.
“People can be waiting to get on 495 all the way back to Boulevard East. But we have ambulances and fire personnel that need to utilize that road,” he said. “That’s our top priority.”
Sean Allocca can be reached at email@example.com