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September 25, 2001

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Transportation officials backed off their initial plan to reopen the New Jersey-bound lanes of the Holland Tunnel yesterday (September 24), but commuters still managed to get across the Hudson River with fewer delays than they suffered last Monday.

In attempts to ease the commuting nightmares caused by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center two weeks ago, officials launched several stop-gap measures yesterday. They provided new ferry connections for bus commuters from Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties and an extra NJ Transit train heading directly into Manhattan from Union and Essex counties.

"It's a very fluid situation and things are going to keep changing," said state
Transportation Commissioner James Weinstein. "We're going to have to be nimble
enough to respond to this in a time frame that's going to have to be extraordinary."

Early yesterday, officials had been planning to open the Holland Tunnel at 3 p.m. for
motorists coming out of Manhattan. But by 9 a.m., they reconsidered and quickly issued notices that the tunnel would remain closed indefinitely.

"They're evaluating it, and it's a day-to-day decision," said Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "The main concern was how would traffic get to the tunnel without causing gridlock on the streets in the surrounding area."

While the Holland Tunnel has been shut down, the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel have become clogged. Last Monday, for example, bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched from the Lincoln Tunnel all the way back to New Jersey Turnpike Interchange 14 in Newark, more than a two-hour grind.

"Last Monday sent a message to motorists that using the Lincoln Tunnel during rush
hour was not the most effective way to get into the city, they have to use mass transit, to use carpools and to change their working hours," New Jersey Turnpike Executive Director Edward Gross said. "Nobody wants to spend three-quarters of their day on the roads."

Yesterday, delays at the Lincoln topped off at about an hour and were less than that at the George Washington Bridge.

"Other than a little surge, the delays were pretty typical for this time of year," said Bob Glantzberg, operations supervisor at TRANSCOM, a coalition of transportation agencies that gathers traffic information.

Coleman said the delays at the bridge and Lincoln Tunnel resulted from security checks on trucks heading into Manhattan, rather than from increased volume because of the Holland Tunnel's closing.

For example, the George Washington Bridge carried 46,933 vehicles yesterday between 6 and 10 a.m., compared to about 52,000 on a typical weekday before the Sept. 11 attack, said Coleman. The Lincoln Tunnel, meanwhile, handled 16,037 vehicles during yesterday's morning rush, about 2,500 fewer than normal.

Officials speculated that the relocation and shutdown of firms in Lower Manhattan that were devastated by the attack was part of the reason for the drop in traffic at the crossings. But they also have seen increases in people taking trains and ferries across the Hudson River.

The new bus-ferry link operating out of Liberty State Park carried about 2,400 people, according to NJ Transit spokeswoman Penny Bassett-Hackett. The NJ Transit, Academy Bus and Coach USA/Suburban Transit bus lines that stop along Route 9 and used to go to Lower Manhattan instead dropped riders off at the ferry dock at Jersey City. From there, bus passengers were taken by ferry at no extra charge to Pier 16, near the South Street Seaport in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, other ferry services have thrived in the wake of the Twin Towers disaster. NY Waterways, for example, has seen its number of riders jump by almost half, from 34,000 daily trips before the attack to more than 50,000 a day.

NY Waterways has even rented some boats to companies that want to secure ferry
service across the Hudson for their employees -- a practice that has upset some
commuters who say they have had to wait as long as 20 minutes for ferries open to the public. The chartered ferry business has spilled over and members of the Yacht Owners Association of New York have leased their vessels for use as ferries.

"Any business that has had to relocate to Jersey is finding the trip is taking a toll on its workers, so they're looking to provide alternative means of getting to work," said Frank Giordano of the yacht association.

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