Gateway National Recreation Area Seeks Solutions to Weekend Traffic Snarls at Sandy Hook

The new Route 36 Highlands Bridge near Sandy Hook will be a major improvement for traffic flow and safety, but the construction phase is creating some weekend tie-ups. Photo by New Jersey Department of Transportation.

The Sandy Hook Unit at Gateway National Recreation Area has seen major weekend traffic snarls this summer. Road construction just outside the park is partly to blame, and park and state officials are making some changes. They offer these tips for visitors.

Sandy Hook's beaches have long been a favorite summer destination for residents in the New York City area, and heavy traffic on weekend afternoons is common. The area's popularity confirms the truth of the famous line, "If you build it, they will come." Many visitors to the area last Sunday probably wondered, however, if those who came would ever get back home.

It isn't so much the number of visitors, it's the number of cars on summer weekends. Up to 6,500 vehicles enter the Sandy Hook area on a typical Saturday or Sunday in the summer, looking for one of about 5,000 parking spaces. Even with turnover in the lots during the day, spaces are scarce.

The problem comes in the afternoon and evening, when all those beach goers decide to head home. While traffic is always a challenge at those times, current road construction just outside the park entrance is causing major headaches, with the normal two lanes of traffic exiting the park forced to squeeze into just one.

The final piece of the formula for motorist's misery is the short interval on a traffic light at an intersection near the park exit.

Last Sunday some drivers reported it took three hours to exit Sandy Hook, prompting park officials to request a meeting with New Jersey DOT officials to look for solutions.

“The meeting was extremely productive,” said Dave Avrin, Superintendent of the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. “The DOT definitely shares our concerns about the impact the bridge construction is having on our visitors.

We have worked together to find workable traffic flow solutions for years, and beginning this weekend we will all be implementing some changes that will make a difference to motorists when they exit the park,” Avrin added.

Some of the changes made by the DOT will include a new timing sequence of traffic lights to bring vehicles off Sandy Hook more efficiently, improved communications by DOT employees with the local police who are directing traffic at intersections, and setting up the opportunity for park visitors to find out the status of traffic back-ups through the New Jersey 511 telephone traffic info line.

At the park level, on busy weekends when overcrowded roads are anticipated, Gateway staff will limit the number of cars that can enter Sandy Hook. Currently on a summer Saturday or Sunday up to 6,500 cars typically enter the park. Beginning Saturday, July 25, that number will be reduced by approximately 1,000 vehicles.

“Between the actions taken by the DOT outside Sandy Hook and the changes we’re making internally, the time it will take visitors to exit Sandy Hook will be reduced, although only time and experience will tell us by exactly how much,” stated Avrin.

Arvin and other park staff members offer some practical tips for summer weekend visitors:

“Arriving early and leaving as early as noon is the best way to try to avoid traffic delays. And although swimming is only permitted when our lifeguards go on duty at 10 a.m., sitting on the beach and enjoying the early morning sun is a great experience at Sandy Hook.”

Sounds like good advice, especially on a summer Sunday. Enjoy the beach in the morning, then spend a couple of hours in the water and head for the exit by noon to beat the rush.

Another option: Take public transportation to Sandy Hook. Information is available on the park website.

Park and local officials are trying to help, but construction work on the new bridge won't be finished until the spring of 2011. If you're in a hurry to drive home from Sandy Hook on a summer weekend afternoon, you may want to adapt an old song as the theme for your visit: "Never on Sunday."

Comments

My husband and I were among those unfortunate souls who were trying to leave Sandy Hook Sunday, July 20th. It was absolutely ridiculous. The only warning is a small sign saying to expect "heavy" traffic. Living in the metropolitan area, we are used to "heavy" traffic. This was not heavy--it was stopped dead, crawl along a few feet, then stop again. For three hours, like you said.

We had gone on a tour of the old Nike missile site, a rare open house scheduled from 3-8pm. If the park service is telling people to come early and leave early, why do they hold events in the afternoon and evening? And their suggestion to use public transportation? Yeah, right. The only thing worse than being stuck in your own car is being stuck on a bus.

This is poor, poor planning by NPS and NJ DOT, although I wouldn't be surprised, knowing how NJ works, if the NPS probably had little say in the matter. The people who live in the area didn't get much of a voice either.