The George Washington Bridge cast a dark shadow over Christmas revelry this weekend as emergency lane closings caused a traffic nightmare for thousands of drivers struggling just to make it between New York City and New Jersey.
As traffic crowded their upper Manhattan neighborhood, residents of New York’s Washington Heights district told radio station 1010 WINS that they had never seen anything like it Saturday night.
“The traffic backup goes back all the way to like 183rd, sometimes down to 175th. It can get pretty bad. I’ve seen a lot of trucks stopping in the crossroads and oh my god that backup is ridiculous,” one Washington Heights resident who identified himself as “Sam” told the radio station.
The bridge congestion ruined the evening commute even for drivers who did not attempt to take the bridge, as traffic spilled into upper Manhattan, creating chaos in the streets of America’s most populous metropolis.
The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931, spanning the Hudson River to connect the bustling borough of Manhattan with the then-rustic wooded regions of New Jersey’s Palisades. The bridge was one of the world’s wonders when it opened, twice as long as any suspension bridge ever constructed at that time.
As traffic increased over the coming decades, two more lanes were added in 1946 to the original six-lane structure. A whole new six-lane lower level opened for traffic in 1962.
But this weekend’s lane closings resulted from construction on the creaky, aging upper level, with three of the four eastbound lanes closing from Friday to Saturday, followed by lane closings in both directions on Saturday and Sunday, The New York Daily News advises.
The travelers’ horror show concludes — for now — with three westbound lane closings extending into Monday morning, as many commuters return to the job for their final full work day before Wednesday’s Christmas holiday and what is often an abbreviated day on Christmas Eve.
The lane closings could not have hit at worse time, said one travel expert.
“About 5.2 million from New York State will be traveling and more than a half million of those will be traveling by motor vehicle,” said Robert Sinclair of the AAA auto club’s New York branch.
Sinclair added that 27 percent of America’s population was projected to be on the move on this, the last weekend before Christmas.
The upper level of the George Washington Bridge is already 10 years past its projected lifespan and cracks have forced the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the world-renowned bridge, to undertake an $82 million emergency repair project.
But the Port Authority says that due to safety concerns on the bridge, there is no alternative traffic route during the lane closures.