The 2012 Ironman U.S. Championship on Aug. 11 will thrust Fort Lee into the national spotlight, but it will also put local police to the test, as officials plan for the logistical challenges of keeping traffic moving through the borough on the day of the triathlon.
“We don’t know the full impact of this because this is the first year that it’s being done,” said Capt. Keith Bendul of the Fort Lee Police Department. “It’s a very complex operation.”
The southbound lanes of the Palisades Interstate Parkway (PIP) from exit 18 in Bear Mountain State Park to the George Washington Bridge between 2 a.m. and 8 p.m. on race day, authorities announced recently.
Bendul said Wednesday that Hudson Terrace from the Edgewater border to the Englewood Cliffs border will also be closed from 12:01 a.m. until about 10 p.m. on Aug. 11.
The police department’s primary mission that day is to keep traffic flowing through town to the George Washington Bridge, while keeping people off of Fort Lee’s secondary streets but allowing residents to get in and out of town, according to Bendul.
“As long as we keep traffic moving, and there are no complications on the span itself or the Cross Bronx, we’re going to try and expedite traffic moving through Fort Lee to keep it on the state roads to the bridge,” he said.
Traffic coming from the south will be diverted up Route 5, which starts at River Road in Edgewater, to Palisade Avenue, Bendul said.
The New York State Department of Transportation is advising motorists who normally use the southbound PIP north of Interstate 87 to use the Tappan Zee Bridge to get to New York City, Bendul said, adding that drivers starting out south of Interstate 87 can use 9W to get to Fort Lee and the GWB.
In addition, parking will not be allowed at all along Hudson Terrace during the closure because different parts of the road are for both the cycling and running portions of the Ironman triathlon, according to Bendul, who said people who usually park there will need to “find alternative parking” like Fort Lee’s municipal parking lots.
Fort Lee police officers will be posted along Palisade Avenue, Lemoine Avenue and Fletcher Avenue to deal with the diverted traffic, keep things moving “and prevent gridlock in town,” Bendul said, noting that the police department has been working closely with Ironman officials, the Port Authority, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Fort Lee’s governing body and other borough officials and department heads in the weeks and days leading up to the race.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck event,” Bendul said. “Everybody’s involved, and everybody’s preparing for it. It’s basically going to be a 22-hour event for us, with having to close down Hudson Terrace, secure that, have them set up the course on Hudson Terrace and the PIP southbound lanes and then have the event itself.”
Bendul said the Fort Lee Police Department will “maintain normal staffing” on Aug. 11, with a full complement of patrol officers and detectives on duty to deal with calls, but that personnel “dedicated for Ironman” are going to be assigned separately.
“We are also going to be utilizing a unified command for all the inter-agency communications, and we’re going to have our mobile command post operational,” Bendul said.
Noting that local officials have been told the cutoff for the last runners to get on the GWB in Fort Lee before finishing the race in New York City is 9:30 or 10 p.m., Bendul said Fort Lee police will either reopen Hudson Terrace completely or open portions of the road “as soon as conditions allow.”
“But that’s going to be dictated by participants on the course,” said Bendul, who plans to be on duty by 4 a.m. with hopes of being done by 11 p.m.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said local officials are “excited” about the Ironman U.S. Championship being held in Fort Lee for the first time in race history but “obviously concerned” about traffic.
“But we’ll overcome that,” Sokolich said, adding, “We have plans in place; we have staffing in place, which is being absorbed by the race sponsors.”
“I’m confident that for the several hours of inconvenience, it’s going to be completely outweighed by the benefits that the community will derive—the boost to the local economy and just an activity that’s healthy and fun,” Sokolich said. “[The event] puts Fort Lee on the map and gives us an opportunity to show off and flaunt our and the capacity that we have to pull off these events.”
Meanwhile, Bendul said police are urging people to plan ahead, allow extra time and monitor traffic conditions on the radio, TV or the Internet on Aug. 11.
“Public safety is our primary concern,” Bendul said. “And we need to ensure that if there’s an emergency within town that the emergency vehicles are going to be able to get there.”