September 20, 2001

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MORE OPT FOR PATH INTO NYC

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Judging by the sharp increase in the numbers of riders who have opted for PATH and NY Waterways ferries, hundreds have decided to leave their cars at home, rather than brave waits of an hour or more at the Lincoln Tunnel.

The trip through the Lincoln was easier Wednesday than it had been Monday and Tuesday. There were two-hour waits Monday, and 1 1/2-hour waits Tuesday.

"We had the Jewish holiday Tuesday and today, and once the holidays are over, we could have a real crunch [this] morning," said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman. "Conceivably, it could be as bad as Monday or even worse. We just don't know. Just anticipate more traffic at all crossings."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Holland Tunnel has been closed indefinitely to all but emergency vehicles, and the Lincoln has taken a good slice of the Holland's roughly 40,000 eastbound daily drivers. The George Washington Bridge has been much better, with a maximum wait Wednesday of 25 minutes.

During the height of Wednesday's rush hour, from 5:45 to 9:30 a.m., 22,636 vehicles passed through the Lincoln, Port Authority officials said. Even accounting for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, that's an increase over the 21,318 who went the tunnel Monday.

There was one disruption in traffic Wednesday as the Lincoln Tunnel was closed for about 30 minutes after a bomb threat, agency officials said. The threat was false and the tunnel reopened to traffic at 3:43 p.m., they said.

Transportation agencies continue to urge people to take mass transit, and many are doing so in a big way, especially on PATH, the ferries, and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail Transit System.

"There's a lot of people on PATH. The trains are very crowded and we strongly encourage employers to stagger hours so we can thin out the crowds occurring during typical rush hours," Coleman said. "Our busiest terminal doesn't exist anymore, so the entire PATH ridership is switching over to one terminal instead of two."

PATH's line to the World Trade Center has been shut since last week's tragedy, a line that normally handled 66,000 daily riders. Many have jumped onto PATH's lines from Hoboken and Newark into 33rd Street in Manhattan.

Plus, more new riders are flocking to PATH.

On Tuesday from 6 to 10 a.m., the PATH had 75,000 riders. But on Wednesday, that number had jumped to 79,500 riders during the same time span.

"It leads me to believe that more and more people are taking PATH and mass transit to avoid the traffic backups that are occurring at the crossings," Coleman said. He also said riders can expect more new faces.

"We expect that [today] the volume on PATH will be higher after the holiday and probably much higher on Monday," Coleman said.

NY Waterways is seeing huge increases in its ridership, and there's still more room. But expect some crowds, said company President Arthur Imperatore Jr. Besides the four ferries it added recently, the system expects delivery of three new ferries by next week, and four more by mid-November.

"Many, many new people are coming out onto the ferries. We know this because of the questions they are asking about how they get to certain places," Imperatore said.

Riders who want to take the ferry should leave early since the parking lot in Weehawken has been filled during rush hour, and ridership from Hoboken to lower Manhattan continues to jump the fastest.

"We still have some rush-hour capacity left on most lines," Imperatore said. "But from Weehawken to midtown and from Hoboken to downtown, we're filling boats to capacity during peak hours."

There's still room also on NJ Transit's buses and trains, and officials continue to monitor commuting patterns. They've noticed a shift from people taking very early trains to very late trains during the morning hours, and those patterns are still working themselves out, the agency said.

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