Commuters and visitors to Bayonne are still griping about how tough their plight has become since the start of four major construction projects in Bayonne’s vicinity, specifically since the $310 million New Jersey Turnpike Interchange 14A Improvement Project which began in the winter.
The other projects are the Bayonne Bridge “Raise the Roadway” effort, renovations to the Pulaski Skyway, and the building of the new Goethals Bridge in Elizabeth and Staten Island.
In order to apprise city business leaders about solutions, the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce invited representatives of the both the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to make presentations at its annual membership breakfast on June 3.
At the event, Mayor James Davis said all agencies were now communicating on the ongoing projects and pledged to do what is possible to keep traffic moving in and out of the city. Jersey City officials and others all also part of the conversation.
Davis and 31st District Assembly candidate Nicholas Chiaravalloti last month also met with New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jaime Fox regarding 14A. At the meeting, Fox committed to hiring and assigning a project coordinator for the turnpike’s Bayonne construction.
The project coordinator will be responsible for direct communication with all the parties affected.
“We were looking for solutions and Commissioner Fox instantly provided one,” Davis had said prior to the meeting. “As this project is evolving so will our working relationship with the turnpike. This is a big step in the right direction.”
In response to a request from Davis last month, the Turnpike Authority agreed to pay for a Bayonne police officer to direct traffic in the vicinity of the 14A toll plaza during peak weekday hours through the summer, according to Thomas Feeney, an NJT spokesman.
Many commuters said that the Newark Bay eastern extension, from Turnpike Exit 14 and across the Casciano Bridge to Bayonne and points east was almost impassable during the morning commute.
Several weeks ago, many attributed morning rush-hour traffic problems to increased deliveries at the GCT Terminal in Bayonne and Jersey City, and therefore, increased truck traffic to Interchange 14A and the resulting turnaround traffic at the end of those trips.
The GCT issues have abated a bit, with the company’s stricter enforcement of its gate opening policy. Truckers were said to have been arriving early and forming a line for the terminal’s opening, causing massive delays back to the Casciano. GCT also began opening on Saturdays when necessary to help decrease the crush of truck traffic. An increased police presence, to help move traffic along, was also said to have helped.
Delays going westbound in the afternoon and evening have also increased, with truck drivers, commuters, and day trippers all attempting to leave from about 3 to 7 p.m.
The turnpike project, expected to finish in the fall of 2018, will rehabilitate the Bayonne toll plaza and add a lane in each direction, increasing its capacity from 11 to 13 lanes.
“The delays entering the westbound extension, and the lack of capacity through the interchange are two of the main reasons the new toll plaza is being built,” said Feeney. “The new interchange will correct those problems, but they aren’t going to go away just because construction has started.”
That’s a problem for a Middlesex County resident who teaches in the Greenville section of Jersey City. She leaves her house each morning at 6:30 to get to school by 8 – and many times doesn’t make it.
She could get off exit 14B but doesn’t because of the ongoing Pulaski Skyway work.
“In the Jersey City School System, you can’t be late a minute,” she said. “You do it five times and you get docked a half day’s pay. “I’ve been docked more than $800 dollars already this year.”
The teacher said that she must leave her school as soon as it lets out at 2:55, otherwise she could be sitting in Bayonne waiting to get on the turnpike until 4:30.
Worried about business
The scenario is similar for a Bayonne businessman who travels in daily from Union County. He gets on Route 78 East to Exit 14, to the eastbound extension, to 14A to get off, almost a straight line, with no deviations. But the ride takes about 15 to 30 minutes longer now.
He noticed a difference with the start of the skyway reconstruction last summer, and said it has intensified with the turnpike project. While his customers haven’t complained yet about the traffic, that’s what’s worrying him.
“You’ve got the turnpike, the skyway, and the Bayonne Bridge all happening at once,” he said. “That’s my main concern. It doesn’t make it desirable to come to this part of Hudson County.”
For Kathy Curtis of Sayreville, who works in Jersey City’s financial district, a one-hour commute sometimes now takes two hours. From turnpike toll plaza 14 to 14B, what was once a 10 to 15 minute ride is more like a half hour – and sometimes up to a whole hour.
But she knows the traffic is partially seasonal, with schools closing and workers taking vacations.
“I’m pretty hopeful that the summertime will repeat itself, with less traffic,” she said. “When school is out, it’s nice.”
For Laura Bell of Cranford, visiting family in Bayonne is now a crap shoot. She lucked out on a June 4 trip to Bayonne, not experiencing long delays. But a normal 20- to 25-minute drive home took about an extra 15 minutes.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.To comment on this story online visit www.hudsonreporter.com.