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Bridge and Tunnel Slow Woes: Major Route 495 Repair Will Clog the Lincoln

Traffic pileup: Transportation officials warn construction will lead to severe congestion, delays for ‘next two-and-a-half years’

Lincoln Tunnel bus lane
The dedicated bus lane on Route 495 will remain open during morning rush hour.

Getting into Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel is about to become much more difficult for many New Jersey motorists thanks to a long-term bridge-repair project that is set to ramp up this month.

State transportation officials are warning drivers to prepare for major delays in and around the tunnel as crews rehabilitate a Route 495 bridge that spans Routes 1 and 9 and Paterson Plank Road in North Bergen.

In fact, the Department of Transportation didn’t mince words in a recent announcement that detailed the upcoming traffic disruptions, issuing a candid warning to motorists that they will see “severe congestion and delays for (the) next two-and-a-half years.”

The disruptions and delays are because of a major rehab of a span known as the Route 495 Viaduct. The bridge is 80 years old and has been rated as structurally deficient, according to the DOT, which is overseeing the work. The $90 million project began about a year ago, but the big headaches for motorists are expected to begin in earnest this month with long-term lane closures starting on both August 10 and 17.

Viaduct is functionally obsolete

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The rehab work, which will involve the bridge deck, parapets, light fixtures and guiderails, comes at an already difficult time for the region’s commuters, with New Jersey Transit continuing to struggle through a bout of last-minute train cancellations as the agency works to install and test safety technology known as Positive Train Control. The bridge project will also impact NJ Transit bus routes; more than a dozen will face detours during the rehab work. But the dedicated lane for buses on Route 495 will remain open during morning rush hours throughout the project, agency officials said.

Built in 1938, the Route 495 Viaduct is considered to be functionally obsolete even as it continues to serve as a major roadway linking the New Jersey Turnpike and the Lincoln Tunnel. Initial repair work started in September 2017, and it has included improvements in the surrounding area to local streets that are now expected to carry more traffic as the bridge reconstruction begins.

The project’s first major and long-term lane closure is scheduled for August 10 when crews will shut down the 31st Street ramp from Kennedy Boulevard to Route 495 westbound. A week later, one lane of Route 495 traffic in each direction will also be closed. In all, the work is expected to last through summer 2021, according to the DOT.

The project will involve repairing and reconstructing the bridge’s deck and replacing and strengthening deteriorated structural steel, the DOT said. The bridge’s substructure will also be repaired and repainted. The work is expected to extend the life of the bridge by another 75 years and prevent the need for even more disruptive emergency repairs if the structure’s condition worsened.

‘Significant delays,’ morning and evening

Lincoln Tunnel
The Lincoln Tunnel

For NJ Transit bus riders, the agency has released a list of 18 different bus routes that will face detours between the hours of 1 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day as the bridge work takes place. But the dedicated bus lane will continue to remain open between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., the agency said.

Still, like DOT, NJ Transit is warning its customers about the potential for severe congestion once the Route 495 lane closures take effect. “Buses may encounter conditions that result in significant delays in the outbound direction during both the morning and evening peak periods,” the agency said.

To help keep the public up to date as the work progresses on the Route 495 bridge, the DOT has set up a website for the project. It is also planning to use electronic signs to make sure motorists are aware of all traffic-pattern changes. Motorists are also being encouraged to monitor the DOT's traffic-information website.

Perhaps one bright spot for motorists who may be looking to use the Holland Tunnel as an alternative way into Manhattan is the recent reopening of the Pulaski Skyway to all traffic in both directions. That bridge, which links Newark with Jersey City, recently underwent a $1 billion rehab, a project that was also administered by the DOT.

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