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Major New York-area traffic bottleneck is about to get worse. A lot worse

Major New York-area traffic bottleneck is about to get worse. A lot worse
Traffic passes over the Route 495 viaduct, in North Bergen, N.J. A $90-million rehabilitation project is expected to create "severe congestion." (Mark Lennihan / AP)

It is the bane of tourists and truckers, theatergoers and weekday 9-to-5ers: the congested, pothole-strewn roadway that bisects the teeming towns overlooking the Hudson River before descending into the Lincoln Tunnel to New York.

In a region known for its soul-crushing gridlock and delay-prone rail system, the 80-year-old Route 495 viaduct connecting the New Jersey Turnpike to the tunnel is where smooth rides come to die daily for more than 150,000 motorists.

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And it's going to get worse.

An estimated 2½-year rehabilitation project to shore up the bridge and replace the road surface will close one lane in each direction, 24 hours per day for about two years. The New Jersey Department of Transportation is overseeing the $90-million undertaking, which it says will extend the life of the bridge by 75 years.

Motorists should expect "severe congestion," DOT spokesman Steve Schapiro said. Schapiro didn't provide a date for when the closures would begin, other than to say it was scheduled for mid-summer.

"Oh, gosh. I may need to find another way to get to work," said Jaymin Patel, a project manager for an ad tech company who takes the bus from central New Jersey each day — a trip that has taken two to three hours on occasion. A dedicated inbound bus lane usually runs smoothly, but getting there from the highway can be a chore.

"So what this means is there will be more congestion before the tunnel and it will take more time to get to the bus lane," Patel said.

The increased gridlock could force truckers — who already have seen the bridge and tunnel toll from New Jersey into New York rise to more than $100 in recent years — to seek alternate ways into the city, though their choices are little better.

The Holland Tunnel, to the south, bars large trucks, and the George Washington Bridge, to the north, is the second-worst truck bottleneck in the nation, according to a study of truck GPS data by the American Transportation Research Institute.

"We'll try to do off-hour deliveries as much as possible," said Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Assn., an industry group.

The towns bordering 495 already get spillover traffic, mostly outbound, when the road is backed up. Officials have been meeting in recent months to hammer out plans for the long slog ahead.

"There will be road closures and diversions, depending on what they decide to do on the viaduct at a certain time," North Bergen Police Det. Frank Mena said. "It's a major artery, and it's going to be a headache. But it's a really big project that obviously needs to be done."

Mena said North Bergen doesn't have plans to emulate neighboring Leonia, the town near the George Washington Bridge that made national headlines in January when it closed some streets to nonresidents to discourage drivers seeking a shortcut. The move prompted an order from the state attorney general to desist.

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