North Bergen motorists have been plagued with traffic congestion caused by road work repairs for so long it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the condition started. Commuting, even local shopping have become arduous and time-consuming. Residents have complained to the Board of Commissioners regularly for months, and while local officials may be sympathetic, they often respond that the work is being performed by agencies beyond their control.
The Vornado shopping center at 88th street and US 1& 9 - Tonnelle Avenue has been a nearly daily traffic jam since January 2010 when the new Walmart was built. The road repairs have been ongoing for years.
“These areas are all still being worked on by the state Department of Transportation as part of their Tonnelle Avenue widening and resurfacing project,” according Phil Swibinski, township spokesman. “This is a state-run project that North Bergen government has no direct control over. It has been delayed many times, and has lasted far longer than anticipated.”
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” – Phil Swibinski, town spokesperson
Left lane work overdue
The state is trying to alleviate the congestion at the construction and road widening on US 1&9 - Tonnelle Avenue northbound between 88rd street and 91st street by creating a left lane which has taken more time than expected. What has left residents and motorists fuming are street closures surrounding the project. During a commissioners’ meeting in February, one resident said that people living near the congested road have trouble leaving their houses.
“It’s a bit of an exaggeration to call the area dangerous,” said Swibinski. “Traffic statistics in the area show that it has had no more accidents than many other comparable busy urban streets.”
He conceded that the area is often congested, but said much of the congestion coming into and out of Vornado should be improved when the Left Turn Only Lane northbound on Tonnelle Avenue is finished, hopefully by the fall.
According to Swibinski, this left lane was supposed to be done as of last year. “Mayor Sacco and the town get a lot of heat for that area yet there’s nothing that we can do about it, that’s a state owned road.”
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he added. “Once the work is finally completed in the fall, Tonnelle Avenue will be wider and will be a far better roadway for residents and commuters to utilize.”
“I live in Teaneck,” said a Walmart employee who preferred to remain anonymous. “On Saturdays and Sundays, if they’re doing work, instead of taking the 15 minutes it usually takes me, it takes 30 to 35 minutes to get home. It’s out of control. And then you have crazy drivers, which is a problem. They just need to hurry up.” She said she recently had a near-accident with motorist that nearly hit her bumper as he was speeding through traffic.
Trucks frequent the area entering and exiting the business and factory district along West Side Avenue. There are also High Tech High School buses that slow traffic down turning onto 85th street in Tonnelle Avenue.
Pete, a visiting commuter from Tennessee and a former Jersey resident said, “I think they should do it at a different time and not do both sides of the road, at least one side of the road at a different time. I know you have to do work maintenance but there’s no point in tying everything up for so long... The traffic, the road work is just horrible.”
Contractors or state to blame?
There has also been utility work ongoing for quite some time on US 1&9 - Tonnelle Avenue northbound between West Side Avenue and 69th street. The right lane has been closed leaving one lane for both sides of the road, and massive potholes have been left in the lanes that aren’t being worked on.
“It has to be done because they can’t make new roads,” a maintenance employee from Morristown said. “The state doesn’t do anything but sign checks, so it’s a contractor that’s doing it. There’s always unforeseen circumstances that make it go longer. I think the politicians are trying to make the public think that they’re actually doing something. Always during election year it seems to get worse.”
Swibinski pointed out that police officers are stationed at strategic points along Tonnelle Avenue to help direct traffic and minimize the potential for accidents when necessary. “Police details involving the state project on Tonnelle Avenue are paid for by the state DOT, not by North Bergen,” he said.
Swibinski indicated that the state project began in 2006 and was originally supposed to be done between 2009 and 2010. “The state project involves completely resurfacing Tonnelle Avenue, which will remove potholes from the road.”
A Walmart consumer and resident of North Bergen said, “It wasn’t planned well. Especially Walmart, which overall attracts more people. A project like this, regardless of who’s doing it, impacts everyone in the area. It should’ve been thought more effectively. I left my car at home and decided to take a taxi.”
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org