NEWARK, N.J. — For all the consternation over whether Mother Nature may or may not visit in northern New Jersey for next weekend's Super Bowl, another unpredictable force could determine whether the event turns into a transportation debacle: the football fan.
The $64,000 question, beyond whether Feb. 2 will bring another storm the likes of the one that dumped nearly a foot of snow Tuesday, will be whether the estimated few hundred thousand visitors to the area heed organizers' advice and leave their cars at home or at their hotels.
If fans do decide to take mass transit, they will find plenty of options waiting. If they don't, they will find out what New York metro area residents already know, that the slightest disruption to the traffic system, be it construction, an accident or the influx of more vehicles, can tip an already delicate balance into chaos.
And that's on an average day.
"There's a certain degree of angst that I have right now, quite frankly," said Jim Kirkos, head of the Meadowlands Chamber, a business organization covering the area surrounding MetLife Stadium. "But people at the host committee have been studying this for a long time and they have a really solid transportation plan. They're going to have a lot of assets and resources working on this, so I have a lot of confidence this will find a way to work itself out."
The efforts to make this the first "mass transit" Super Bowl fall into two categories: the days leading up to the game and the game itself.
Geography dictates the former. More than 20 miles separates Times Square, site of the NFL's Super Bowl Boulevard attraction, and Florham Park, N.J., where the Broncos will practice. In between is Jersey City, site of the team hotels; East Rutherford, home to MetLife Stadium and the Seahawks' practice facility, and Newark, where media day will be held next Tuesday.
New Jersey Transit, the nation's third-largest commuter rail system, will expand service and add cars onto some trains starting on Wednesday of Super Bowl week, and will have additional bus service into New York from next Wednesday through Saturday. The agency is offering a $50 "Super Pass" good for travel on its rail, light rail and bus lines from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3. NJ Transit spokesman John Durso Jr. said about 1,300 of the passes had been sold so far.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridges and tunnels between New York and New Jersey, will add trains to its PATH rail service between Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken and Manhattan beginning next Monday.
Two years of planning have gone into figuring out how to move 80,000-plus people in and around MetLife Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday in any weather. Two factors in organizers' favor: weekend traffic is less onerous, and parking restrictions will keep down the number of cars that can get onto the stadium grounds.
Fewer than 15,000 of the normal 28,000 parking spaces are available and must be reserved by ticketholders for $150 each. (As of Wednesday some were being sold on eBay for upwards of $300.) Buses and limos won't be allowed to drop off passengers and leave, and will also have to pay for parking spaces.
That leaves trains and buses as the mode of transportation organizers hope a large number of fans will choose.
The Super Bowl host committee is running buses from six locations in New York and three in New Jersey — one in Secaucus, one at Newark Liberty Airport's Marriott hotel and one in Hanover, close to the Broncos' practice facility in Florham Park. Tickets are $51 roundtrip — no discount for one-way travel — and are on sale through this Friday. They've been selling well, according to host committee spokeswoman Alice McGillion, though she wouldn't specify how many had been sold. The buses hold about 50 people each and will be allocated to the different locations based on demand, McGillion said.
NJ Transit lengthened its lower platform at the Secaucus train station to accommodate longer trains for the Super Bowl, and will offer trains about every 10 minutes or so on game day, according to Durso. Riders should expect to have their game tickets checked and go through security screening, Durso said.
"It's going to be 'load and go,' where once we bring the trains to capacity we're going to move them out to the Meadowlands," he said.
For motorists, the state Department of Transportation will have an army of machinery and resources at its disposal including plows and salt-spreaders in case of snow, and trucks patrolling roads near MetLife Stadium to clear away accidents or help stranded motorists. Drivers will be directed by numerous electronic signs that can be changed depending on traffic conditions by DOT personnel at a command center central New Jersey.
"It will be very clear how to get to the stadium, what exits to take," DOT spokesman Joseph Dee said. "And there will be a lot of eyes on a lot of camera images, and communications with folks in the field."