Friday, April 25, 2014

The Sky Is Falling

It came as no surprise to me that the Pulaski Skyway was becoming a serious risk to public safety. NJ DOT decided that the time has come for the 82-year old, iconic commuter viaduct to be repaired before it falls into the Hackensack River. The two-year project will require each direction of the span to close for a year at a time, causing traffic nightmares on the local roads below.

This bridge, which cuts across the horizon between Newark and Jersey City like a dark serpent, was graded a "D-minus and about to become an F" by engineers. They consider it worse than the bridge in Minneapolis which collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people.

When officials use the word "crumbling" and "structurally deficient" to describe a structure that carries 74,000 cars a day, it should send a chill up the spine of anyone who has ever used it. Drivers should think back to the last time he or she drove over such a crossing and consider whether or not it was a good idea. By the time projects like this begin, they are already well past the danger zone and into reckless endangerment territory.

I had my own white-knuckle moment on the Pulaski Skyway last spring, but it had nothing to do with infrastructure issues. I was in South Kearney taking photos of the bridge, and I used one of the center on-ramps to re-enter the bridge. The Skyway was built in the 20's and 30's, and was not meant for 21st century driving. There was no acceleration lane on this particular ramp, and I had to really put the hammer down to get up to speed before the oncoming traffic ended up in my back seat.

This renovation project will start on the northbound side of the bridge. In the meantime, it will remain open for motorists heading south. What dangers lie ahead for them as they travel over the 82-year old span? When it was opened, it was hailed as an engineering marvel, the first limited access expressway designed to reduce travel times between the two cities it connected. Less than a century later, its not only an eyesore, but a rusting, crumbling hulk of steel and concrete and a shell of its former self. I guess time is the enemy of progress.

Matthew Green, Skyway, oil on canvas, 2008