Unusually harsh Monday commute in tri-state may be a sign of much bigger problems

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MIDTOWN, Manhattan — Mondays in July have statistically the lightest commuter traffic on the roads and rails in the tri-state, but on Monday, people saw one of the region's worst commutes in recent memory.

One of the country's foremost traffic experts says that the calamitous commute is an indicator of much larger problems than just unusually congested traffic, and that now is the time to fix those problems.

The list of Monday morning transit and traffic tie-ups was lengthy as commuter Robyn Burros pointed out.

"Monday is usually an easy in[bound commute],"  told PIX11 News. "Today, everything went wrong."

She traveled on the Long Island Railroad, which shut down Monday morning in both directions after a non-passenger train had derailed, blocking the tracks.

In addition to that, the Van Wyck Expressway came to a total standstill for the entire morning commute after a pedestrian was struck and killed at JFK Airport. Police had to shut down the expressway, which leads to the airport, for more than an hour while they conducted their investigation.

A separate police investigation was underway at the Lincoln Tunnel during the morning rush. Officers had to shut down its center tube for an hour and fifteen minutes when one NJTransit bus rear ended another. That left delays of more than two hours throughout the morning commute. 103 people had been on board the buses, and 18 of them were injured. None of the injuries was life-threatening, but eight passengers were transported in serious condition.

The subway was not immune to the commute crunch either. Due to a report of smoke in the rail tunnel, the L train was shut down all the way across Manhattan, the busiest part of its route, all borough out morning rush.

"In the past 12 months," said L train commuter Gabriel Skop, the breakdowns on his train "are the new normal."

His assessment was not so different from that of one of the country's foremost experts on transportation issues. "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz is so nicknamed because he coined the term "gridlock" when he was transportation commissioner in the Koch Administration, in the early- to mid-1980's.

Schwartz said that the steady growth of the New York metro area has been a significant factor in increased -- and increasingly challenging -- traffic problems.

"We have, for the first time ever," Schwartz said, "more people coming in by [both] transit and traffic. Usually, it's one or the other."

That added stress on the area's infrastructure, Schwartz said, is a sign of economic growth, which is a positive development. However, he added, it's also a sign of something else that's not so positive, unless it's dealt with soon, and effectively.

He said that the multiple shutdowns during one morning commute "are messages."

"Our infrastructure is telling us a message: fix us," he said.

Schwartz is promoting an infrastructure plan called Move NY. It calls for reducing current NYC metro area tolls and adding tolls to the East River bridges into Manhattan, which are currently free of charge to cross.

The result, according to the Move NY plan, would be $1 billion per year in revenue and up to $20 billion in bonded funds that could be applied expressly to improving infrastructure.

Schwartz introduced the plan in 2012, but says that he's more confident that the state legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio will help get it approved next year.

Not doing so, Schwartz's research has shown, could lead to commutes like Monday's becoming more common. He admits, though, that getting the chief executives of New York State and New York City to agree on the measure may be "a challenge."

That may be due, at least in part, to opposition that's been expressed in the past by the public against adding any new tolls.