Eye on roads as Philadelphia and region gear for Pope Francis’ visit

(Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro

Are a lot of people planning on driving to see the pope?

That’s a question that’s on the mind of some organizers as they try to reconcile the lackluster sales of hotel rooms, train and plane tickets with the enormous estimates of people expected to attend Pope Francis’ mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway Sunday.

And if the answer is yes, it could mean massive traffic headaches throughout the region — and not just near Philadelphia.

RELATED: Congestion costs Philly drivers $3.4 billion annually

When Pope Francis takes the stage on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Sunday afternoon, he could be speaking to a crowd or more than one million — some estimates have been double that.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has estimated that half of those going to see Pope Francis will use cars to get at least part of the way there.

Nobody, however, is sure how many people will actually come to hear Francis.

NJDOT spokesman Steve Schapiro said the department will be watching crowds in Washington D.C. and New York closely.

“The numbers have been all over the place,” Schapiro said. “The way we operate — we plan for a worst case scenario. It’s really difficult to know until we see how things transpire.”

Schapiro said when an overturned dump truck forced the closure of the New Jersey Turnpike, it had a ripple effect throughout the state. With the Ben Franklin Bridge, along with portions of I-676 in Camden shut down on the New Jersey side, officials are bracing for a similar effect.

RELATED:Road closures for papal visit announced

The Pennsylvania State Police is also preparing for a gridlock. They’ve stashed ATV’s filled with emergency supplies along area highways because of the highway closures in the Philadelphia area.

Authorities in both states are prepared to re-route traffic to clear roads.

All of this, however, may be handwringing over nothing.

Dan Keshean, the spokesman for Camden County Government, said thousands of parking spaces on the Camden Waterfront remain open despite officials pleas to register for parking ahead of time.

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