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US Officials Warn Pope Fans to Be Prepared to Walk

FILE - Drivers cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Camden and Philadelphia. For Pope Francis' Sunday Mass in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, the faithful are looking at a several-miles-long walk from Camden over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Be prepared, be patient -- or maybe better yet, stay home.

That was the message offered by New Jersey transportation officials Thursday as they laid out plans to accommodate the expected hundreds of thousands of people expected to pass through New Jersey next month for Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia.

With anticipated major traffic delays and the prospect of a several-miles-long walk from Camden over the closed Ben Franklin Bridge to the site of the Pope's Sunday Mass, state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox offered sobering words.

Be prepared to walk

"If you are not prepared to walk a significant distance, you may want to re-evaluate whether in fact you want to go to this event," he said.

More than a third of the projected 2 million people going to Philadelphia for the weekend of Sept. 26-27 are expected to pass through New Jersey, at Newark's Penn Station, officials said Thursday.

More than half of all attendees will be senior citizens, said Sam Schwartz, a traffic engineer and former New York City Traffic Commissioner.

Schwartz recommended that trekkers make sure to have cellphones charged, carry flashlights for a return walk likely to be in the dark, bring comfortable shoes, light clothing and extra medicine.

"We want people to come, but we want them to be prepared," he said.

Transit officials were to hold a second news conference in Camden Thursday afternoon, after which they were expected to make the trek across the roughly one-and-a-half-mile, 135-foot-high Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia and farther west to the site of the Mass.

Fox and others urged groups planning to travel by bus to register with the World Meeting of Families, which is sponsoring the event.

Buses, parking spots

About 10,000 buses are expected to descend on the area, officials said.

About 1,100 parking spaces will be available in Camden, said Sal Cowan, the state DOT's director of traffic operations. There will be "several thousand" more in Philadelphia, but only for those that have registered, he said.

Given the possibility that not all buses will have registered and be able to find parking spots in Camden, officials said it was conceivable that they would have to park outside Camden, adding to the distance people would have to walk.

The pope is also holding an invitation-only event at New York's Madison Square Garden on Sept. 25 that is expected to pose a much smaller challenge, though the U.N. General Assembly meets in New York that week and the New York Giants and New York Jets have games at MetLife Stadium in northern New Jersey on Thursday and Sunday.

New Jersey Transit Executive Director Veronique Hakim said Thursday the agency would add buses and augment rail service to add 30,000 train seats for Friday between New York and New Jersey.