September 24, 2001
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The light at the end of the Holland Tunnel could be near for New Jersey commuters.
Port Authority officials say the tunnel, closed to all but emergency vehicles since Sept.
11, could be at least partially opened to the public in a week or two.
"We think that's realistic," Port Authority spokesman Dan Bledsoe said Friday. "We are
moving heaven and earth to try to get the Holland open."
The tunnel's closure since last week's jetliner attacks on the World Trade Center, along
with the destruction of the PATH station under the Twin Towers, has tied regional
transportation in knots. Delays at the Lincoln Tunnel, which has soaked up much of the
Holland's volume, reached an almost 90-minute wait during Friday morning's rush hour.
Displaced commuters continued to pack buses, trains, and ferries as well.
The plea remained the same to Manhattan-bound travelers: Leave for work early, and
leave the car at home.
The Holland was unscathed structurally by the towers' collapse, Port Authority officials
say. But it was reserved for hundreds of emergency trips in the days immediately after
The demand created by emergency vehicles has lessened, and Port Authority officials
think at least some of the lanes could be opened soon to general traffic. Another
possibility is opening the tunnel only for commuter bus service.
But that presents other challenges, said Jeffrey Warsh, NJ Transit's executive director.
"The financial district is just so completely devastated," he said. "Either you're at Ground
Zero or you're in this area with enormous amounts of emergency vehicles all around.
There's just nowhere to put the hundreds of buses we'd need to use."
Buses reaching the city traveled at 105 percent of capacity Friday morning. Trains into
Penn Station, crowded before the tragedy, had up to 25 percent more riders than official
NJ Transit added an extra train to Midtown Direct service between Summit and Penn
Station in New York. The agency also is beginning a bus service Monday that will shuttle
commuters to a new ferry at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, serving an estimated
Still, the Holland's importance could become painfully clear next week.
Mass transit use dropped slightly Friday. That's normal, with some people taking long
weekends or working from home.
But Monday could be the acid test for the transportation system. More businesses will
reopen in Manhattan for the first time since the disaster. Some who took this week off
because of Rosh Hashana will be back at work.
"We're getting prepared for a very, very large push on Monday," said John Ruzich, a
spokesman for NY Waterway, the commuter ferry operator. "We're expecting it to be a
stronger day than any that we've faced so far."
NJ Transit, meanwhile, placed an order for 33 diesel locomotives Friday. But the cars
won't make a difference in the current crisis.
The agency agreed to spend $175 million on the locomotives, which aren't expected to
be in service until 2004. The move to replace equipment built more than three decades
ago had been planned before Sept. 11.
"We're anticipating continued growth," Warsh said. "Even without this horrible tragedy
we were going to be packed."
The new locomotives will pull more rail cars than current models, which are used on nine
of 12 rail lines. Warsh said the extra power of the new diesel engines will enable NJ
Transit to run longer trains that will carry as many as 300 additional customers.
It's too early to tell whether the Twin Towers tragedy will have a lasting impact on daily
ridership, which is typically 384,000 commuters. Already, the Hudson Bergen Light Rail
Transit System has seen an increase to 20,000 customers -- double the normal number.
The agency also has made bus, train, and light-rail passes interchangeable through the
end of the month and has waived the $3 penalty for buying rail tickets on the train,
instead of beforehand.