NJ officials announce Papal visit transportation plans [maps]

 NJ Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim (center) crosses the Ben Franklin Bridge while walking the route she expects riders to take from Camden to the Ben Franklin Parkway, wher Pope Francis will celebrate Mass with up to 1.5 million people. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

NJ Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim (center) crosses the Ben Franklin Bridge while walking the route she expects riders to take from Camden to the Ben Franklin Parkway, wher Pope Francis will celebrate Mass with up to 1.5 million people. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

When Pope Francis comes to town, the Garden State will look like anything but the Garden of Eden.

More than 100,000 private vehicles, and perhaps as many as 250,000, are expected to travel from and through New Jersey on the way to Philadelphia for the Papal visit on Saturday, September 26 and 27th, said transportation consultant Sam Schwartz at a press conference of New Jersey transportation held in Camden today.

“Just as Bob Dylan said, ‘You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows,’” said Schwartz, “You don’t need to be a traffic engineer to know that we will have traffic jams in New Jersey.”

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Thirty-seven percent of visitors are expected to come from the northeast, said Schwartz, and another 41 percent from the west and 22 percent from the south. Based on an estimate of 1.5 million, that’s 555,000 from the northeast, 615,000 from the west and 330,000 from the south. Increasing the number to 2 million, and it’s 740,000 coming through New Jersey, 820,000 crossing Pennsylvania and 440,000 coming up from Delaware and Maryland.

A chart at the press conference noted that the estimated 100,000 to 250,000 private cars would be “equivalent [to] 110 to 430 lane miles of bumper to bumper traffic each day.” Below that, the chart helpfully added “110 mi = distance from Philly to NYC. 430 mi = distance from Philly to Raleigh, NC.”

Schwartz also noted that seniors are expected to make up a little over half—53 percent—of the 1.5 to 2 million visitors. Schwartz later told PlanPhilly that they did not have an estimate of how many would be using wheelchairs or motorized scooters like the Hoveround

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Schwartz’s figures come from a survey of likely attendees conducted by the World Meeting of the Families, the non-profit helping to organize the Papal visit. That same survey showed that about half of the expected visitors expected to drive their own vehicles to Philadelphia.

Schwartz added that the planners hope most drivers will arrive “on Thursday and Wednesday, and that they have some accommodation in Philadelphia” to lessen the concentrated traffic on Saturday and Sunday.

Schwartz also said an estimated 10,000 charter buses carrying around 400,000 pilgrims is expected. Earlier reports from Go Ground, the travel logistics company overseeing the registration of charter buses, predicted 5,000 charter buses. Go Ground did not respond to PlanPhilly’s request for a comment for this article.

The transportation engineer consultant noted that around 10,000 charter buses crowded Washington D.C. for Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Schwartz, who helped plan that event, said “we had about 2 million people at that…. People did walk five miles, six miles from bus parking areas, so we know people will do that.”

The weather on that January day was well below freezing and an estimated 1.8 million braved the cold on the National Mall for hours to see the President take the oath of office.

The Ben Franklin Bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic starting Friday night around 10 p.m. and will remain closed until midday Monday. Three of the lanes will be reserved for pedestrian traffic; bicycles will be allowed on the bridge, but will need to be walked across.

CAMDEN AS A MASS TRANSIT HUB

During the Papal visit, “the City of Camden will basically be a mass transit hub“, said Captain Albert Handy of the Camden County Police Department. The River Line, NJ Transit buses, and hundreds of charter buses will carry tens of thousands to Camden, said Capt. Handy, where they will then need to walk across the bridge.

The parking spots along the Camden waterfront will hold 1,100 charter buses registered with Go Ground. And for private cars?

“Zero,” said Capt. Handy. Handy added that driving a private car to Camden is “not recommended.”

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On Saturday and Sunday of the visit, special tickets will be required to travel on the Atlantic City Line and the RiverLINE. For the AC Line, 4,140 will be available each day. Those tickets will cost $30 round trip, and the AC line train will depart from Atlantic City hourly, starting 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The AC Line will run express only between Atlantic City and 30th Street station in Philadelphia.

RiverLINE tickets will cost $5 and will be available at stations, but those tickets must be purchased in advance. It will run every 15 minutes on an express line. For each say, 7,500 tickets will be available on the RiverLINE. Only the Trenton, Bordentown, Florence, Burlington South, Pennsauken Route 73, Pennsauken Transit Center and Walter Rand Transporation Center RiverLINE stops will be open.

Tickets will be available online at NJTransit.com starting Saturday, August 15th at noon. Tickets must be purchased in advance – no tickets will be available for purchase the days of the visit.

Bicycles will not be allowed on NJ Transit vehicles during the Papal visit.

Plans for the RiverLink Ferry and the three water taxis owned and operated by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation have not been finalized, but the DRWC says that it expects that it will operate that weekend. Those passenger boats could help seniors and others cross the Delaware without having to climb up the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Once the bridge closes to vehicular traffic, all NJ Transit buses that normally travel to Philadelphia will truncate at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden. Likewise, the Access Link paratransit service will also stop running to Philadelphia when the Ben Franklin Bridge closes.

Throughout the press conference, New Jersey officials repeatedly urged out-of-town visitors to take public transit or Amtrak to Philadelphia.

“For many people, they can’t get there unless they go through here, the great State of New Jersey,” said Ronnie Hakim, executive director of NJ Transit.

ON THE ROAD TO JERICHO… OR BABYLON?

NJDOT will close roads feeding into the Ben Franklin Bridge when it is closed. I-676 northbound will be closed from Exit 3 to the Ben Franklin Bridge. Southbound the bridge exit will be closed, but other exits leading to it will remain open.

Similarly, US-30 will be closed westbound from Baird Boulevard to the bridge.

Emergency vehicles will be allowed on those closed roads and on the Ben Franklin Bridge. 

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NJDOT Director of Traffic Operations Sal Cowan also warned that “if traffic heading to Camden becomes significantly over crowded and stopped traffic extends back onto [Interstate] 295, New Jersey Department of Transportation and its law enforcement partners will take steps to temporarily block ramps leading to these roads in order to meter the traffic and prevent lines of stopped traffic on our interstate that could create serious rear-end crashes.”

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NJ DOT Commissioner Jamie Fox said that driving to and then parking in Camden wouldn’t be a viable option. “There are not enough parking spaces,” he said.

“So, people are going to have to plan on walking a fairly decent distance,” said Fox.

Fox then added, ominously: “If you’re not capable, health-wise, of making that long trek, you may want to re-evaluate whether you’re coming or not.”

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