New Jersey drivers face 1st weekday commute with 495 construction project

NORTH BERGEN, New Jersey (WABC) -- Traffic was moving fairly smoothly for the most part during the morning and evening commutes Monday, as drivers faced their first weekday commute with lanes closed on the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel from the New Jersey Turnpike.

The epic construction project on Route 495 outside the Lincoln Tunnel began Friday night, with officials saying many drivers avoided the area.

Summer vacations, drivers preferring an alternate route and driver awareness were all credited for the smooth commute, but officials cautioned that more troubles could be ahead.

Just outside the tunnel in Union City, site of many a shortcut via GPS apps, extra police were deployed to oversee busy intersections. But the traffic was orderly, almost calm, as commuters hurried to catch shuttle buses into the city.

RELATED: What you need to know about the 495 construction project.

Eyewitness News found most brake lights on the ramp where Route 3 meets 495, and many commuters expect things to be worse at night when there are no dedicated bus lanes.

One lane of 495 in each direction will be shut down, 24/7, for two and a half years as crews make $90 million worth of repairs to an 80-year-old stretch of bridge deck deemed structurally unsafe.

Roughly 150,000 vehicles drive across the span each day, making it one of the Northeast's worst bottlenecks when there is an accident or emergency road repair.

Motorists have been urged to take public transportation such as trains or ferries, stagger their travel times or use other routes into the city such as the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City. While Monday morning was a bright spot, a truer test may come in two weeks when summer vacation season ends.

"It is very important for commuters to remember that just because traffic was light today, they should not be lulled into a false sense of security," New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Schapiro said. "Traffic may be heavy over the next several weeks, particularly after Labor Day when people are back from vacation and school is back in session. Commuters should continue to seek alternative routes over the course of the project."

For one day at least, the traffic predictions around Route 495 project echoed those from 2014 when the resurfacing of the deck of the Pulaski Skyway through Jersey City to the Holland Tunnel began. The predicted apocalypse failed to materialize as commuters adjusted their routines, and the resurfacing was completed this year.

New Jersey DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said last week the Route 495 project "will result in a tremendous amount of pain for everyone who lives and travels in this corridor." But commuters opting to ride the rails will find a system plagued by dozens of cancellations in recent weeks, many with little or no advance warning, due to an engineer shortage at New Jersey Transit exacerbated by required track safety work. The cancellations are expected to continue, albeit in smaller numbers, until the end of the year.

Motorists will also have another major disruption to contend with the year after the Route 495 work is completed: the replacement of the helix leading down into the Lincoln Tunnel, tentatively scheduled to begin 2022 and last about five years.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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