If there were lingering doubts about whether the aging Pulaski Skyway needed a major makeover, they likely were erased when workers toiling on the bridge’s underside last year knocked away concrete to expose the steel underneath.
“That steel hadn’t seen the light of day for 82 years,” Richard Hammer, assistant manager for capital program management for New Jersey’s Department of Transportation, said Monday as he stood under the span where it passes over a tangled web of roads west of the Holland Tunnel.
What emerged wasn’t pretty: Rusting, corroded steel panels sitting barely a foot under the bridge’s roadway deck, riddled with holes. The culprit, according to Hammer, was decades of road salt leaking through the roadway joints above.
Shoring up more than 20 such spots along the 3.5-mile bridge will be part of the department’s job for the next two years as it repairs and refurbishes the Pulaski at a cost of about $1 billion. The skyway, which opened in 1932, will see its decks, railings and drainage systems replaced.
The undertaking will force a paradigm shift for commuters heading into Jersey City and Manhattan each morning, as the inbound lanes will be closed for the entire two years. The closures begin Saturday, but the first genuine test will come next Monday morning, when inbound lanes normally carry about 10,000 cars between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.
In hopes of persuading people to take mass transit, NJ Transit and PATH are augmenting service. Those who insist on driving will find a highway shoulder turned into an extra lane on the Turnpike and new traffic signal technology on Routes 1 & 9 should reduce congestion.
It could all add up to a traffic nightmare anyway. A study predicts that travel times could increase by at least 35 percent.
“We’re expecting a few weeks of trouble out here; we have to look at it that way,” Hammer said. “But we may be pleasantly surprised.”