Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia is still more than a week away, but police officials are prepared for a potential impact in Mt. Laurel.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27, coinciding with the World Meeting of Families. Throngs of visitors are expected to visit the city and see the pope, who is scheduled to speak at Independence Mall on Sept. 26 and preside over mass in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum on Sept. 27. Mt. Laurel is one of the many South Jersey towns that could be impacted by the pope’s visit. Lt. Stephen Riedener of the Mt. Laurel Police Department said the department has been preparing for the Papal visit for the past few months.
“We’ve been attending the meetings with Camden County as well as New Jersey Department of Transportation,” he said.
Though Mt. Laurel is not in Camden County, Riedener said the police department and other agencies in Burlington County near the major highways were invited to meetings because of the scope of the event.
The state Department of Transportation warned local residents in August there will be expected congestion and delays on roadways across South Jersey, saying as many as 2 million people could converge on the Philadelphia metropolitan area for the Papal visit.
With Route 38, 70 and 73 as well as I-295 and the New Jersey Turnpike running through the township, Riedener acknowledged there might be a significant traffic impact in Mt. Laurel. To help combat possible issues, Mt. Laurel Police will have additional officers working in the township that weekend.
“We’re not sending any manpower anywhere else,” Riedener said. “We do have increased patrols for that weekend in case there is a large impact.”
One of the challenges the Mt. Laurel Police Department and other agencies are facing is the uncertainty of how many people will actually come to the event. Riedener said the police department is preparing as if there will be large impact so it can be ready to respond to any possible scenario.
“I don’t think anyone really knows how bad it’s going to be,” Riedener said. “We’re close enough where any backups along the river crossings can affect us. We’re expecting a lot of traffic, but we don’t know how much.”
NJDOT has established a website specifically for the papal visit, http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/events/papal.shtm, for information on going to the event, what residents could expect and a full list of roads to avoid during the weekend.