While a plan to fill the gap on I-95 in North Philadelphia left by two fire damaged overpasses started Thursday, some of the displaced traffic has migrated across the Delaware River to New Jersey.
Thank the apps for that.
Traffic and direction apps such as Waze and Google Maps has started routing traffic using some of the Garden States highways and Delaware River Port Authority bridges after the June 11 tanker truck crash and fire, despite official detours that were planned by emergency officials months ago.
That was the finding of Assistant Professor Branislav Dimitrijevic, who specializes in in transportation engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He started checking how direction and mapping apps would route him and if they stuck with the official detours.
The result? Hello New Jersey.
“Those applications do not consider state borders. They will route the vehicles dynamically,” Dimitrijevic said in an interview with NJ Advance Media. “You may be seeing different detours depending on the time of day and the conditions on the roadways.”
Official detours are planned ahead of time by state, local and emergency management agencies, he said. But there is no requirement for applications to use them. The overpasses carried about 160,000 vehicles on average each day.
He programmed both Waze and Google Maps with the start and end point of the detour near the affected I-95 Exits 30 and 32.
“Google Maps routed me through New Jersey It didn’t tell me to take the official route. It told me to go across the Ben Franklin Bridge, use Route 130 and come back across the Betsy Ross bridge and use local streets to on the ramp for I-95,” he said.
A southbound trip took him on Route 63 in Pennsylvania, somewhat close to the official detour around the I-95 collapse, he added.
There are good reasons for apps rerouting traffic. Even on Wednesday, videos on social media showed a solid line of traffic on I-95 north near the collapse. For local drivers with neighborhood destinations, they will be routed on local streets, Dimitrijevic said.
That works until traffic volume overwhelms the capacity of those streets to move it, he said. The other issue is when large trucks and tractor trailers get routed by GPS or app on those streets. Local delivery drivers in North Philly complained on social media that their routes take longer to drive.
“A potentially interesting problem is there is a lot of local traffic on this section of I-95, this is close to downtown and industrial areas,” Dimitrijevic said. “How much of that traffic is local? For them, going to New Jersey and coming back isn’t an option.”
So far, the I-95 collapse hasn’t added too much traffic to New Jersey roads, said Stephen Schapiro, a state department of transportation spokesperson.
“Comparing traffic volume on Monday, June 5, to Monday, June 12, following the closure of a portion of I-95 in Philadelphia, found a slight decrease in traffic on I-676 in Camden; and a slight increase in traffic on I-295 in Mt. Laurel and Rt 38 in Maple Shade,” he said.
I-295 joins I-76 and Route 42 in Bellmawr and from there, I-76 is a direct route to the Walt Whitman bridge, the Delaware River span that was least affected by traffic detoured around the I-95 collapse, compared to the Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross and Tacony-Palmyra bridges.
State Assemblyman Bill Moen, D-5th Dist., who represents the Camden County district affected by traffic from the I-295-76, Route 42 junction and a $900 million NJDOT project to remake the interchange for a better, safer traffic flow has traffic concerns, which he’s asked the DOT to monitor.
Moen said he uses an app for the best, least congested route to work in the morning from an entrance to I-295 in Bellmawr.
“I personally have been re-routed from my daily commute. Three days in a row I’ve been re-routed to stay away from 295,” he said. “My wife travels north on 295 for work and she’s been re-routed as well.”
Moen also said he’s seen more trucks and 18-wheelers using I-295 in the middle of the day while he was traveling.
“The additional 18-wheeler trucks were definitely a surprise to me,” he said.
The potential extra wear and resulting repairs on state highways and local streets are conditions that Moen would like the DOT to monitor.
“There’s a cost beyond me sitting in traffic. It’s literal costs,” he said. “Thousands of more vehicles are now using our Turnpike, I-295 and Route 30. What’s that mean in terms of wear and tear on our roadways and accident responses from our first responders in terms of cost?”
While fixing I-95 is the number one priority, the regions back-up plan for next three months, including wear and tear on the routes traffic diverts to, should also be supported with some federal funding, if repairs are needed, Moen said.
On Thursday, the Federal Highway Administration allocated $3 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief funds for use as a down payment by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to offset costs of repair work on the collapsed section of I-95. More funding is available through the federal administration’s Emergency Relief program.
“Every day counts in this urgent reconstruction project, and the quick-release funding is an important step to help PennDOT rebuild the collapsed portion of I-95,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “We will continue to use every federal resource we can to help Pennsylvania restore this key artery quickly and safely.”
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Larry Higgs may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.