If you've been in New Jersey for more than five minutes, you've probably been stuck in a traffic jam. It's a great state, and one in which I've lived in for all but six months of my life, but getting around can be a challenge. I've been involved with traffic in and around New Jersey for over 35 years, including stints as one of the original Shadow Traffic reporters back in 1979 and ten years working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. From blizzards to hurricanes, I've seen it all, and that's just within the past year!
From time-to-time I hope to share some tips and resources you can use to get around a little more quickly. Some you might be familiar with, others may come as a surprise. If you have a suggestion or question, please let me know.
You know about 9-1-1, but did you know there's also a free number you can dial from your cellphone or landline to get real-time traffic information 24/7? This automated system, operated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, lets you say the roadway, city, bridge, tunnel or point of interest anywhere in the state and get a report on current conditions. The easy-to-understand voice will alert you to problems, such as accidents, construction and delays. Since the system takes commands by voice, you can get information while you're en route without having to worry about hitting phone keys while driving.
That's not all 5-1-1 offers. There's a shortcut that will give you shore traffic, with updates on the Garden State Parkway, I-195 and the Atlantic City Expressway.
If you're thinking about taking the train or bus, 5-1-1 will connect you with NJ Transit and you can also have your call forwarded to E-ZPass.
For those traveling to New York or Pennsylvania, the system will connect your call to 5-1-1 systems in both of those states.
Before you leave your home or office, you can also check the companion website for 5-1-1 at 511nj.org. Here you can see on a map where the problem spots are and also check on current speeds and even watch the traffic cameras to verify conditions. The website has much more detail than the phone service.
A few tips when using the 5-1-1 phone service. First, remember the 5-1-1 phone service should never be used in the car unless you're using the hands-free feature on your phone, or someone other than the driver is using the system.
If you're in a car and using the hands-free feature on your phone, try to eliminate as much background noise as possible by closing windows, turning down the radio and setting the fan to a low level. Extraneous noise makes it difficult for the automated system to understand what you're saying.
The system, like any other traffic-reporting source, isn't perfect. Traffic conditions can change quickly and what was true five minutes ago may not be true at the moment.
When you're traveling out-of-state keep in mind that 5-1-1 is offered in many other areas, including New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Not all the systems operate the same or offer the same information, but they're a good resource to check before you head out.