UNION – Township police are preparing for a brief visit by President Barack Obama late Wednesday afternoon, which is expected to create a traffic nightmare not only for those living in or around the five-points area, but also those using major highways nearby.
The president will be in Union for a private Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraising event at Benito’s, which is located in the five-points section of the township bordering Roselle Park and Kenilworth.
U.S. Secret Service agents from Washington and New Jersey have been in Union since Thursday laying the groundwork for the president’s visit, which will take place between 4 and 6 p.m., according to information obtained by LocalSource.
After national media reports over the weekend that Obama would be attending the fundraiser, indications the township was on high security alert began to surface.
For example, Sunday morning on the Union, NJ Residents Forum on Facebook, a message from the administrators of the forum appeared notifying the close to 3,000 registered posters that because of the president’s visit, “this forum will be heavily monitored for the next few days for his protection.”
“Please know that certain deletes, etc. will be entirely out of our control. Until Wednesday, the posts on this forum aren’t just a matter of Union anymore,” the message indicated, but there was no mention of who would be monitoring the site, only it would be monitored because of the president’s impending visit.
Township police also began alerting residents to the possible traffic issues on their Facebook page, pointing out the impact Obama’s visit would have on traffic. They also noted there would be major traffic delays in the area of five-points, which would be blocked off at times.
“There will be detour routes and officers will be assigned to traffic posts, but anticipate delays in the area between 3 and 6:30 p.m.,” the alert said, advising residents or anyone working in the area to “avoid traveling through five-points if possible on Wednesday.”
Township police also began erecting digital signs alerting motorists that the five-points area will be closed on Wednesday.
Monday morning Union Police Director Dan Zieser had already met with Secret Service agents prior to speaking with LocalSource about the potential impact on township traffic. However, while he could not discuss what was discussed at this meeting, he did explain there was much preparation in the works for the president’s visit.
Despite all the preparation involved and concern about the impact on residents and traffic, Zieser maintained an upbeat attitude, pointing out he was getting “plenty of help from everyone.”
“I have to say that although this will have an impact on the township, we will make do. I have good people in my department and the cooperation from Roselle Park and Kenilworth police departments, county police, sheriff’s department and state police has been unbelievable,” said the police director.
Zieser explained once the president arrives at Newark International Airport and his motorcade is on the way to Union, there will be approximately 45 security posts in the township and along its borders keeping traffic at bay. That includes shutting down major thoroughfares such as the Parkway, Route 22, Route 78 and all underpasses for the motorcade.
By early afternoon Monday Zieser said his department had all of the 45 security posts identified and his department heads were busy assigning each post. Asked if he would have to bring police officers in on overtime, the police director chuckled and said “are you kidding?”
“We will be bringing in every available officer,” Zieser said. “We are just rolling with it, we will make do and protect the president,” he said, adding that he has had an outpouring of help from the Kenilworth and Roselle Park police departments, as well as county and state police officials.
As far as the president’s arrival causing a traffic nightmare, Zieser said “it’s to be expected.”
“We are putting up traffic alerts ahead of time to warn motorists that five-points will be closed, but we are going to begin to block streets leading to that area around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, so there is going to be traffic jams,” the police director added.
Just how much of a traffic nightmare it will be is anyone’s guess, Zieser said, but he did note the good part is once the president leaves the area, any traffic issues will subside quickly.
Residents living in the area of five-points will be able to get to their homes but they will have to show identification between the hours of 3 to 6:30 p.m., depending on the area they live. The schools also will be sending out notifications to reflect any changes to their schedules as that will not be coming through the police department.