Updated: April 10, 2014 at 4:30 pm
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Gen. Casimir Pulaski, the Polish-born hero of the American Revolutionary War, was made famous by introducing American soldiers to horseback, a much faster means of transportation. Now, the impending partial closure of a northern New Jersey bridge that bears his name threatens to undermine that association.
The Pulaski Skyway, which carries an estimated 40,000 commuters each day toward Jersey City and the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan — 74,000 vehicles total both ways — is slated to close its northbound lanes on Saturday for the next two years. They will remain closed while $1 billion in repairs are done to what engineers say is a decrepit, crumbling structure.
New Jersey's top transportation officials and the mayors of several surrounding towns met Thursday to express concern that the commuting public was still not aware of the looming shutdown and its potential ripple effects on the surrounding area.
"Commuters beware," said New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson. "Despite our best efforts to expand roadway capacity during the closure, it is impossible to squeeze the 40,000 vehicles that travel northbound on the Skyway every day ... onto already congested alternate routes."
The 3.5-mile steel truss bridge, opened in 1932, is an iconic New Jersey symbol, featured in Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast War of the Worlds, and in the opening credits of the television series The Sopranos.
Simpson said that while the Pulaski was sound, it had been "structurally deficit" for 35 years, and received a worse inspection rating than the I-35 bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007, killing 13 people.
"Simply put: we're out of time," Simpson said. "This bridge is a 'D-minus,' about to become an 'F.'"
Simpson was joined by the mayors of Hoboken, Jersey City and Newark on Thursday to urge commuters to be aware of the alternatives, which include taking the New Jersey Turnpike's Newark Bay extension toward Jersey City, or the truck route of Routes 1 & 9.
They also urged commuters to consider carpooling or not driving at all, reiterating that the PATH system would be running more frequently from Newark in the mornings and New Jersey Transit would be running additional trains or adding seating capacity on its Morris & Essex, Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast lines and is adding new express bus service along Route 22 from Watchung to Newark Penn Station. New service would be added on the Seastreak ferry from Atlantic Highlands to Paulus Hook in Jersey City and Hoboken Terminal at a cost of $12 each way. And Suburban Transit, a private bus carrier, will have a new service, at a cost of $2, from a free park-and-ride lot near Newark Liberty International Airport west of Route 1&9 and south of 1-78 in Newark.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said his city, where the Holland Tunnel is located, was deploying 51 additional police officers, paid for by the DOT, at key intersections to direct traffic. Some streets will be blocked and left turns disallowed on others, with the goal of keeping commuters on major street. The brunt of the Pulaski closures may not be felt for more than a week, Fulop added, as schools will be closed next week and traffic is expected to be lighter with people observing Easter and Passover holidays.