Only Colonial Thinking Might Justify Pulaski Skyway Money

As a small cross through state in colonial America all New Jersey roads link New York with Philadelphia.

The Port Authority must have used that thinking when it certified to bondholders that New Jersey could use part of the Port Authority’s 1.8 Billion dollars to rebuild the Pulaski Skyway.  Otherwise, there is no justification to use its money for a road that feeds primarily to the Holland Tunnel, which was neither controlled nor operated by the Port Authority.

The Lincoln tunnel did not exist when the Pulaski Skyway was built, nor was it even conceived at the time the Pulaski Skyway was designed.  The Pulaski Skyway was initiated after World War 1 when it became clear that there was a need for a roadway between the Port of New York and New Jersey. The New Jersey State Highway Department (NJDOT) created a master plan for the extension of Route 1 from Elizabeth, through Newark and Jersey City, to the proposed Holland Tunnel in Manhattan. Interestingly, it does not appear that there was much consideration given to linking the Skyway with the Lincoln Tunnel or using it as an access point for it.

The Pulaski Skyway was not only a reaction to the opening of the Holland Tunnel, but also born out of necessity as a means for dealing with the congestion in areas surrounding the New York Harbor. Started in 1930 and completed in 1932, the American Institute of Steel Construction declared the Pulaski Skyway the “Most Beautiful Steel Structure” among long-span bridges. The riveted-construction bridge cost approximately $20 million, making it the most expensive bridge of its time.

The four-lane 88,461 ton skyway was designed by Sigvald Johannesson, a Danish-born engineer. The elevated roadway is 3.5 miles long with its peak at 135-feet over the Hackensack and Passaic rivers. It begins in Jersey City and contains ramps to Newark and Kearny.

The bridge opened to vehicular traffic at 8:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving, November 24, 1932. It was later dedicated on October 11, 1933, on the anniversary of the death of General Casimir Pulaski, the “Father of the American Cavalry.”  A bas relief portrait for Pulaski by John Sheba of Irvington, NJ, is at the Jersey City approach of the skyway.

The Pulaski Skyway is narrow with 11-foot lanes and no shoulders, which was appropriate for the railroad industry, but it has proved to be inadequate for the more than 85,000 vehicles that cross the Skyway daily. When it was originally constructed, it had a “breakdown lane” in the center for disabled vehicles and no shoulders, which proved to be dangerous as vehicles grew in size and speed. Trucks have been banned from using the Skyway and rerouted to the New Jersey Turnpike. A center, concrete barrier had to be added in 1956 to the center lane to prevent the increasing number of head-on collisions.

For the next several years, the much-needed rehabilitation project will include a complete restoration of the bridge deck and replacement of deteriorating beams. Hopefully the result will be not only a safe bridge, but one that will be around for another 80+ years.

As the massive rehabilitation of the Pulaski Skyway begins, many motorists are left with the task of finding alternative routes for their daily travels. It is estimated that the New York-bound lanes on the Skyway will be closed until April of 2016.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

  Only Colonial Thinking Might Justify Pulaski Skyway Money