UNION CITY, N.J. — The predicted traffic apocalypse caused by a major road-and-bridge project leading to New York City was a spectacular dud, at least during Day One's morning rush on Monday.
Cars streamed along Route 495 toward the Lincoln Tunnel on the first full day of lane closures to accommodate the rebuilding and resurfacing of the 80-year-old viaduct that connects the New Jersey Turnpike to the tunnel.
Just outside the tunnel in Union City, where extra police were deployed to oversee busy intersections, the traffic was orderly, almost calm, as commuters hurried to catch shuttle buses into the city.
"Smooth sailing this morning," one commuter tweeted. Another wrote, "It's the heart of #rushhour and there is NO traffic approaching the #LincolnTunnel. What lane closures?!"
But officials said that won't always be the case.
"Several factors contributed to the relative success of this morning’s commute. NJDOT’s effective outreach encouraged commuters to seek alternative routes rather than travelling on Route 495 this morning. Additionally, we often see lower traffic volumes in late August because of vacations," said Matthew D. Saidel, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
"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. 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."
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. For the viaduct project, the lanes will be closed for the next 2 ½ years, 24 hours per day. The viaduct is considered functionally obsolete and structurally deficient.
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.
Transportation officials have warned that the construction project will cause significant disruptions to motorists and residents in the area around the tunnel. New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said last week the project "will result in a tremendous amount of pain for everyone who lives and travels in this corridor."
Commuters choosing 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 tunnel approach project joins a list of disruptions faced by New York-area commuters in recent and coming years, including:
—The refurbishment of the aging Pulaski Skyway (featured in the opening of the "Sopranos" TV series), which closed New York-bound lanes from 2014 until this year.
—Last year's "summer of hell" when track repairs by Amtrak at New York's Penn Station reduced train service from New Jersey and Long Island.
—Ongoing work by NJ Transit to install positive train control hardware on tracks, rail cars and locomotives, which will contribute to more train cancellations until the end of the year, and possibly beyond.
—The replacement of the Lincoln Tunnel helix, the curving downhill roadway that feeds into the tunnel. This project, overseen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is planned to begin in 2022, the year after the current lane closures are scheduled to end.