THE EXISTING ROUTE 139: Often referred to either as the "Holland Tunnel 1 and 9 approach" or the "covered roadway," the existing NJ 139 through Jersey City was completed in 1934 to connect the Holland Tunnel (I-78) with the Pulaski Skyway (US 1-US 9). With the completion of this route, motorists were able to drive directly from lower Manhattan to downtown Newark.
The 1.5-mile-long NJ 139 roadway consists of two levels. On the lower level, or the "covered roadway," are four lanes (two in each direction) that provide a direction connection between the tunnel and the skyway. The upper level, also known as Hoboken Avenue, provides four lanes of surface arterial service.
When it was completed, the route was designated "US 1A-US 9A." In the early 1950's, this route was re-designated "Business US 1-US 9." The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), which has since designated NJ 139 as an "urban principal arterial," provides a further explanation of this route as follows:
Route 139 was a new number assigned to the upper and lower levels of what was once Route US 1&9 Business. It is a short route, which did not comply with the criteria for a U.S.-numbered business route. We sought to assign a three-digit number. Under the U.S. numbering system, odd first digits denote spurs (even are loops). There was no other greater rationale than that we replaced the ampersand in 1&9 with a similar-looking digit "3". For your information, we continue to carry suffixes of "U" and "L" to distinguish the upper and lower roadways of the alignment.
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: To better serve the approximately 50,000 vehicles per day (AADT) that utilize NJ 139, plans have been drawn to modernize the existing facility. In the fall of 1999, work began on a $206 million project to reconstruct NJ 139 between Kennedy Boulevard and Jersey Avenue. The two phases of the project are as follows:
The first phase of the project will entail the rehabilitation of the 12th Street and 14th Street viaducts leading from the Holland Tunnel. Rehabilitation efforts will include re-decking the entire roadway surface, repairs to the superstructure and substructure, and seismic retrofit of the column footings. In addition, the upper roadway will be realigned where it connects with the 12th Street Viaduct at Palisades Avenue.
The second phase of the project will entail reconstruction of the Hoboken Viaduct and the Conrail Viaduct. Seven bridges that carry local traffic across NJ 139 will also be rebuilt.
Completion of the project is scheduled for 2007.
THE CURRENT (AND FUTURE?) ROUTE 139: The upper left-hand corner of this photo shows the existing two-level NJ 139 through New Jersey, where the four-lane "covered roadway" tunnels beneath Hoboken Avenue in Jersey City. To the left of the existing NJ 139 is an open trench that was formerly used as a railroad right-of-way. The proposed NJ 139 Freeway to the Jersey City waterfront is planned to utilize this right-of-way.
The lower left-hand corner of this photo shows the New Jersey Turnpike-Newark Bay Extension (I-78) approach to the Holland Tunnel. (Photo by Jersey City Economic Development Corporation.)
THE PROPOSED BERGEN ARCHES-WATERFRONT EXPRESSWAY: In June 1989, Governor Thomas Kean unveiled a plan to link the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95), the Meadowlands Sports Complex and the Hudson River waterfront. The proposed highway link was proposed to utilize an existing freight rail right-of-way that was originally used by the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. Part of this right-of-way traverses Jersey City in a deep cut along the south side of the existing NJ 139 arterial.
Initial plans call for the construction of a 2.5-mile-long, four-lane freeway that would connect Tonnelle Avenue (at the US 1-US 9 Pulaski Skyway approach) to the west with Newport Parkway at the Jersey City waterfront. The new NJ 139 Freeway would exclusively serve traffic bound to and from the waterfront area, freeing up additional capacity on the "covered roadway" for traffic bound to and from the Holland Tunnel. Both roadways would parallel each other for a distance of 1.5 miles.
The initial section of new freeway is expected to cost $100 million. In June 1998, Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which included $26.5 million for the Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway project. However, a review of the costs and benefits of various alternatives is required as a condition for receipt of federal funding.
Studies commissioned by the NJDOT, New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation ultimately call for a two-mile extension of the NJ 139 Freeway west to a new interchange with the eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike in Secaucus. Including new right-of-way acquisition and construction, the cost of the NJ 139 Freeway extension would be an additional $250 million.
The Jersey City Economic Development Corporation summarized its recommendations as follows:
Construction of a four-lane Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway (NJ 139) in this right-of-way will enable waterfront travelers to bypass chronically congested trans-Hudson routes. Each general traffic lane in the Waterfront Expressway will have a potential capacity of about 1500 vehicles per hour. As presently planned, auto access from the new roadway to the Holland Tunnel could be prohibited to provide unhindered service to the waterfront areas.
The construction of this roadway from the proposed Allied Junction interchange on the New Jersey Turnpike's easterly alignment (I-95) in Secaucus to the waterfront will enable traffic from west, south and north of Jersey City to reach waterfront developments without adding to the traffic congestion on existing NJ 139 and the New Jersey Turnpike-Newark Bay Extension (I-78). This alignment will have little or no impact on existing communities. Additionally, connections with Tonnelle Avenue and the Pulaski Skyway could provide a bypass route around the Tonnelle Circle bottleneck for most waterfront-bound traffic, benefiting not only waterfront and trans-Hudson traffic, but also intra-Hudson County traffic. Moreover, construction of the Waterfront Expressway in tandem with a north-south Waterfront Boulevard would provide access from west of the Hackensack River to Weehawken and north Hoboken.
The designation of a reversible bus-only lane, if found to be justified, could sufficiently reduce travel times and achieve high transit mode splits to the waterfront from outlying areas not accessible to commuter rail. A mixed bus or high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane will also be considered. This bus-only lane, in concert with the Waterfront Boulevard, could serve also as a safety valve for the NJ 495 Exclusive Bus Lane (XBL).
Constructing the Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Hudson River waterfront will benefit the following markets as follows:
Traffic from the south and west using the New Jersey Turnpike-Newark Bay Extension could remain on the New Jersey Turnpike's easterly alignment to the Allied Junction interchange to the Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway.
Traffic from the north currently using NJ 3 and I-495 to local Hoboken streets could remain on the New Jersey Turnpike, using the Allied Junction Interchange to the Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway.
Traffic from the south and west currently using the Pulaski Skyway to existing NJ 139 to Jersey Avenue could divert from existing NJ 139 to the new exit to the Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway.
Traffic from the north currently using Tonnelle Avenue to existing NJ 139 via the Tonnelle Circle could use the new exit to the Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway.
Traffic from the west currently using I-280 or Hudson CR 508 to NJ 7 via the Tonnelle Circle to existing NJ 139 could use the New Jersey Turnpike to the new Allied Junction interchange to the Bergen Arches-Waterfront Expressway.
However, Paul Payton, a contributor to nycroads.com, described the Bergen Arches right-of-way as follows:
The Jersey City Economic Development Corporation refers to the Bergen Arches rail line as "abandoned." This is not true; one track of the four-track right-of-way still carries heavy freight traffic through there, and no potential alternate route exists unless you go several miles north to the unused Susquehanna Railroad tunnel.
ENCOUNTERING OPPOSITION: Officials hoped that the development spurred by the proposed expressway will spread into neighboring Hoboken. However, environmental groups, community leaders and transit advocates joined forces to oppose construction of the NJ 139 Freeway:
Environmental groups contend that the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area is already in non-compliance with the Federal Clean Air Act, potentially threatening construction of the expressway.
Community groups cite quality-of-life issues for opposing the proposed expressway, stating that its construction will further divide Jersey City neighborhoods.
Transit advocates contend that a new light rail line be constructed to connect the north-south waterfront light rail line (currently under construction) with Bergen County to the northwest. The proposed Bergen light rail line would utilize the Bergen Arches and River Line rights-of-way. According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, NJ Transit may exercise an option to acquire the Bergen Arches rail right-of-way from the residual Conrail "shared assets area" freight railroad at nominal cost. However, CSX and Norfolk Southern, the two companies that purchased Conrail's rail assets, also expressed interest in expanding freight rail service along the line.
LEFT: From upper left to lower right, this photo shows both the Bergen Arches open cut and the existing NJ 139 bi-level roadway through Jersey City. RIGHT: The Bergen Arches right-of-way emerges from the lower right-hand corner of this photo. The New Jersey Turnpike-Newark Bay Extension (I-78) and the Jersey City waterfront lie ahead in the background. (Photos by Jersey City Economic Development Corporation.)
REACHING AN OPTIMAL SOLUTION: In September 2002, the NJDOT released its final draft report on the Bergen Arches corridor. The report examined the following ten alternatives, in addition to the no-build alternatives:
FREIGHT RAIL (alternative F1): A new dual-track freight rail line through the Bergen Arches would connect the Northern Branch Line west of the Palisades with the National Docks Secondary Line east of the Palisades.
TRANSIT (alternative T1): A new dual-track light rail line through the Bergen Arches would connect the existing Hudson-Bergen light rail line with the NJ Transit-Secaucus Junction station.
TRANSIT (alternative T2): Same as alternative T1, except that the light rail line would be extended northwest of Secaucus Junction to the Meadowlands.
TRANSIT (alternative T3): A new two-lane busway through the Bergen Arches would connect 11th Street in Jersey City with the new EXIT 15X on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95). It also would provide connections to the NJ Transit-Secaucus Junction station.
ROADWAY (alternative R1): A new four-lane roadway with no shoulders, or three-lane roadway with shoulders, would be built from the EXIT 15X on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) through the Bergen Arches east to Jersey City. The two-lane roadways would diverge at its eastern terminus, with eastbound traffic exiting onto 11th Street and westbound traffic entering the Bergen Arches roadway at 18th Street.
ROADWAY (alternative R2): Same as alternative R1, but traffic would enter and exit the roadway at the eastern terminus through a widened 6th Street.
ROADWAY (alternative R3): Same as alternative R1, but traffic would enter and exit the roadway at the eastern terminus through a widened 18th Street.
MIXED-MODE (alternative M1): Same as alternative T1, except that the right-of-way would accommodate a dual-track light-rail line, flanked by a bus lane in each direction.
MIXED-MODE (alternative M2): Same as alternative R1 (New Jersey Turnpike to 11th Street / 18th Street; alternative M2 would be built as a four-lane facility. However, the inner lanes would be restricted to buses and HOV+3 vehicles (three or more occupants) during peak periods.
MIXED-MODE (alternative M3): Same as alternative R1 (New Jersey Turnpike to 11th Street / 18th Street; alternative M2 would be built as a three-lane facility. However, the center lane would be used as a reversible bus / HOV+3 lane during peak periods.
After screening all alternatives on accessibility, mobility, feasibility, environmental and other community-based criteria, the NJDOT determined that "alternative M2" (four-lane mixed-mode roadway) was best suited for the Bergen Arches corridor. However, the new NJDOT alternative, which now is expected to cost approximately $300 million, still faces significant opposition from environmental and community groups, which are pressing officials to create a "Bergen Arches Greenway" for pedestrians and cyclists.
The NJDOT should pursue "alternative T2," which at long last would provide mass transit to the Meadowlands and the proposed "Xanadu" development (through a direct connection to the existing Hudson-Bergen light rail line).
SOURCES: "Proposed $100 Million Highway Would Run from Tonnelle to Waterfront" by Brian Donohue, The Jersey Journal (2/05/1999); "Jersey City Tunnel Has Uncertain Road Ahead" by Doug Most, The Bergen Record (4/12/1999); "Route 139 Renovation Begins" by Tony Attrino, The Jersey Journal (11/26/1999); "Traffic Is a Nightmare? Just Wait" by Jonathan Miller, The New York Times (1/08/2006); Federal Highway Administration; Jersey City Economic Development Corporation; Hudson Alliance for Rational Transportation; New Jersey Department of Transportation; North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority; Tri-State Transportation Campaign; Raymond C. Martin; Christopher G. Mason; Dan Moraseski; Paul Payton; William F. Yurasko.