Take mass transit or stay off the roads during Pope Francis’ visit if possible. That continues to be the strong message from the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

The Ben Franklin Bridge that connects Camden, NJ to Philly. (Toniann ANtonelli, Townsquare Media NJ)
The Ben Franklin Bridge that connects Camden, NJ to Philly. (Toniann ANtonelli, Townsquare Media NJ)

The department’s commissioner said he knows a lot of people are likely to ignore that advice, but said his team was prepared for that.

“Will be monitoring traffic both in the northern part of the state and the southern part of the state,” said NJDOT Chief Jamie Fox. “We’re doing it every day, every night and monitoring it on an hourly basis.”

According to Philadelphia officials, it is estimated that as many as 2 million people could attend the World Meeting of Families and Papal Mass. With untold thousands of visitors traveling through the southwest part of New Jersey to get to Philadelphia, transportation officials said gridlock on roadways within a 50-mile radius around the city is expected. As many as 250,000 additional vehicles and thousands of buses will be traveling through New Jersey into Philadelphia.

“Listen to the radio and we will have signs that tell you where there will be a detour if necessary so they (drivers) know we can effectively direct people to routes that are better than others,” Fox said.

On Sept. 18, Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order designed to ensure a safe and orderly environment for New Jersey residents and many thousands of visitors expected to travel through New Jersey during the papal visit. The order remains in effect until Tuesday Sept. 29, 2015 at 8 a.m.

“Given the Pope’s comprehensive schedule and the influx of people traveling to see him, the events associated with his visit span the normal State, county and municipal operating services,” Christie said in a press release statement. “Managing this historic event requires the coordinated deployment of personnel and other resources to ensure the health, safety and resources of the citizens of New Jersey.”

The Ben Franklin Bridge between Camden and Philadelphia will be closed at 10 p.m. this Friday and will remain closed through noon on Monday. NJDOT will be closing I-676 northbound from Exit 3 to the bridge, as well as Route 30 westbound from Airport Circle (Route 38/Route 130) to the bridge.

What does the executive order mean to the NJDOT? Fox said it basically allows his department to unilaterally make quick traffic decisions without having to run the plan up the chain of command.

“It allows us to use our resources effectively and our manpower and be able to divert them to different locations,” he explained.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at kevin.mcardle@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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