‘Easy’ commute greets drivers on first day of Route 495 lane closures

The warning signs were everywhere and for weeks, leading up to when the New Jersey Department of Transportation would close lanes – one in each direction — on the Route 495 bridge crossing Routes 1 and 9 in Hudson County for the $90 million reconstruction project.

The closures happened Friday, and to the surprise of drivers and others, it wasn’t that bad.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” one driver said.

“So far so good. It was like any normal day. The 495 impact didn’t seem to affect Union City,” said Police Chief Richard Molinari.

Union City, Secaucus, Weehawken and North Bergen all report the same after all had concerns cars, trucks and buses would clog their local streets, but on the first weekday morning commute after the lane closures, it just didn’t happen.

“I expected it to be a lot worse,” said one driver.

“It wasn’t a lot of traffic. It usually is,” said another. “But they had the detour, so I’m not sure how they’re funneling traffic, but it wasn’t that bad. But it’s supposed to be.”

“Couple things: We’re hoping that people heard all the news, left earlier. The other things is we’re think they were seeking alternate means,” Molinari explained.

Police say traffic was heavier than normal at both the Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge.

152,000 vehicles traverse this viaduct every weekday. The DOT offered options to minimize congestion over the next 30 months.

“I do my shortcuts,” said one driver.

Shortcuts that could congest local streets. All four of the Hudson County cities have extra patrol officers on the streets to keep intersections clear for emergency vehicles — overtime on the DOT’s dime.

“The impact, if people are getting off the highway, could really impact local roadways. They listened and they assisted us by allowing us to hire off-duty details,” said Molinari.

The DOT calls this 80-year-old viaduct that connects the turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel “structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete.” It says the rehab project will extend the life of the bridge by 75 years and cut out emergency repairs.

But the gain will cause pain. If not today, then soon.

“We have to get through Labor Day — Labor Day is going to be the best indication for us,” Molinari said. “The first day of school opening for this Hudson County region here is Sept. 6. That’ll be the best indication for us.”

The Monday morning commute was far from what anyone – commuters, planners and police – had anticipated. So they know over the next two years that their plans to deal with heavily congested feeder roads and highways must remain the same.