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Showing posts with label highway.
Showing posts with label highway.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Route 278: the Expressway through my house

Readers of a certain age might remember the old Bugs Bunny where our hero wakes up in the morning to find an interstate highway being built around his rabbit hole. He spends the rest of the cartoon outwitting the construction workers to such an extent that they build the highway around his modest 七乐彩彩票app下载.

Bugs' victory became real to me many years ago when my mom told me the story of how Interstate 278 was almost built through our living room in the late '60s. Apparently, my parents had bought my childhood 七乐彩彩票app下载 in Union without knowing that the neighborhood was on a Department of Transportation map of the planned highway extension linking Staten Island with the then-yet-to-be-built Route 78 near the Union-Millburn border.

Earlier commercially-sold maps show a route that would have preserved our immediate neighborhood, but the impact on the town would have been immense with that route, too. Already criss-crossed by the Garden State Parkway and U.S. Route 22, Union would have changed dramatically, with an entire section of town cut off from the rest.

Plans for I-278 had been announced in the mid 1950s as part of a Federal government program to replace existing U.S. highways. According to a 1958 New York Times article, U.S. 1 would be replaced by Interstate 95, U.S. 46 replaced by 80, U.S. 22 replaced by 78, and so on. Planned as a secondary, or spur road, 278 would also be called the Union Freeway and was expected to divert Union County-bound traffic off Route 78 while relieving pressure on State Highway 28.

Protest letters are a little more convincing
these days.
As we know today, the interstates didn't replace the older New Jersey highways as much as they provided a less commercial, limited-access alternative that eventually got equally as congested as populations grew. And unlike a lot of the construction done in less populated areas of the country七乐彩彩票登录, parts of some of these highways would be built through thriving, densely built-up communities. The notorious urban planner Robert Moses had already pushed the construction of the New York portion of 278 in the 1960s by force of will, tearing up neighborhoods as it meandered through four of New York City's five boroughs.

Fortunately, New Jersey lacked a personality of Moses' stature to force the road through. That's where my family's story comes in. By the mid 1960s, Union, Roselle Park and Kenilworth residents living in the path of 278 were up in arms over the potential of losing their 七乐彩彩票app下载s to a six-lane expressway. The Committee to Eliminate Highway I-278 was formed to organize Union residents in protest to state and Federal elected officials. I haven't been able to find much yet about the committee but discovered a letter sent to residents with office holders' names and contact information. Organizers claimed that more than 550 七乐彩彩票app下载s and 24 commercial properties would be claimed by eminent domain, pulling as much as $15 million in rateables off the tax rolls.

Local outrage eventually prevailed, and all that was built of 278 in New Jersey was a stub of a highway that opened in 1969, linking Route 1 in Linden to the Goethals Bridge in Elizabeth. Once the rest was effectively killed, the allocated funding went toward the Central Jersey Expressway, now known as Interstate 195.

And, of course, my family and I were able to continue to enjoy our 七乐彩彩票app下载, unbothered by the inconvenience of being relocated by a six-lane interstate.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I call shotgun! The ultimate cross country七乐彩彩票登录 trip with Alice Huyler Ramsey.

We may have found New Jersey's first legitimate road tripper, and she was a woman with moxie.

Hackensack-born Alice Huyler Ramsey was probably among the first people to get her driver's license in New Jersey, and an unlikely motorist for the early 1900s. She'd dropped out of Vassar College七乐彩彩票平台 to marry a considerably older attorney, John R. Ramsey, and was the mother of a two year old boy. According to most accounts, her husband encouraged her to learn to drive after the horse pulling her carriage was spooked by a passing car. It's quite possible she would have come up with the idea on her own: her father had supported her childhood interest in machinery, and as events would prove, she was up for a good challenge.

Alice Huyler Ramsey and her Maxwell.
Note the New Jersey plates.
Alice took to driving like a fish to water. After two lessons, she'd mastered the automobile and was on the road, logging thousands of miles tooling around Bergen County. She was so enthusiastic about driving, in fact, that she entered a 200-mile endurance drive to Montauk, Long Island. After the contest, she was approached by the Maxwell-Briscoe automobile company, which saw promotional opportunities in the 22 year old. How many customers could they attract if they could prove that anyone -- 'even a woman' - could drive cross country七乐彩彩票登录 in a Maxwell car?

Alice was game. After receiving permission from her husband, she left from Maxwell's New York City dealership on June 9, 1909, with the slogan "From Hell Gate to the Golden Gate." She was accompanied by her two older sisters-in-law and a younger female friend, none of whom could drive (apparently road trippers hadn't yet enacted the longstanding rule of always having a relief driver). Heading north into New York State first to make some promotional stops for Maxwell, they then drove west along Lake Erie and then westward, roughly along the combined paths of Interstates 90 and 80.

To appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, consider what we take for granted when we drive our interstates long distances, and take all of it away. There were no regularly-spaced service stations. Finding a good meal was a chancy venture that might be miles off the beaten path. Lodging was catch-as-catch-can in the days before Holiday Inns and other chain hotels; the concept of the motel or motor lodge was still years from being conceived.

And then there were the roads. No maps were available for cross country七乐彩彩票登录 navigation. East of the Mississippi River, the group used a series of Blue Books, which offered turn-by turn directions that were often unreliable because landmarks were missing or had been changed. The rest of the way, the roads were much less developed, so the travelers stayed close to the telegraph lines that linked towns and cities.

Of the 3600 miles they drove, just over 150 were paved, which led to a lot of ruts, potholes and mud to be negotiated. The Maxwell's tires were treadless and slim by comparison to today's, and even with tire chains, the Ramsey group often found themselves needing to be towed or pulled out by beasts of burden lent by generous farmers. One would wonder if Alice's local driving -- possibly through the Meadowlands -- had prepared her for the muck and mire she would have to conquer on the dirt roads in the Midwest and West.

On the best roads, the group hit speeds up to 42 miles an hour in the open cockpit car and could travel nearly 200 miles in a day. At the worst, they logged only four miles after a long day navigating the muck and mire. They'd often have to ford bridgeless rivers, sleeping alongside a riverbank at least once in the hopes that the water level would have decreased by the time morning came.

Driving a car in the early 1900s also meant knowing what to do when problems came up -- motorists had to carefully monitor gasoline and handle whatever repairs were needed during frequent breakdowns. Alice skillfully handled the malfunctions herself; it took something as serious as a broken axle for her to seek help.

Alice and her group were among the first to get a sense of the majesty of the United States by car. They observed Indians in Nebraska hunting jackrabbits with bow and arrow. They got bedbugs in Wyoming, where they also ran into a posse looking for a murderer. Alice also brought a little of the East Coast west, playing a few impromptu numbers on the piano at a lunchtime restaurant stop in Iowa. And like many travelers yet to come, she enjoyed the reactions Westerners had to her New Jersey license plates. The Maxwell company's publicity brought out curiosity seekers that would meet them along the way

Fifty-nine days after leaving Manhattan, Alice and her crew arrived in San Francisco to a grand celebration. After all that driving, they stayed only three days, taking the train back to New Jersey. Who could blame them? They'd already seen so much, had so many novel experiences. Could San Francisco, as beautiful as it is, even compare?

Nine months after finishing her trek, Alice gave birth to a daughter, but that didn't stop her from having adventures. Over the course of her life, she drove across the country七乐彩彩票登录 50 times, the last being in 1975, at the age of 89. The American Automobile Association named her the Woman Motorist of the Century in 1960. She also attempted to drive the six passes of the Swiss Alps but only made it through five, after stopping because her doctor was concerned about her pacemaker.

Alice lived in Hackensack until 1933, when she moved to Ridgewood after her husband's death. She spent the last 30 years of her life in California, where she died in 1983, and is buried in Hackensack. I can't help but wonder why the Turnpike Authority never named a service area after her. After all the miles she put on the odometer, and all the blown tires and steaming radiators she fixed, she deserves memorializing in the domain of pavement, oil and wrenches.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Get your kicks on... the Lincoln Highway?

As a follow-up to our to remind us of yet another tribute to the 16th president that's just feet away. Keep your eyes open when you visit the Mystic Lincoln sculpture, and you'll see the red, white and blue signs that designate some of the park roads as the route of the Lincoln Highway.

A vintage Lincoln Highway marker,
as seen in the Smithsonian.
If your mind is going toward the Lincoln Highway in Highland Park, Edison or any number of other places in North or Central Jersey, you're on the right track. Those stretches of road were once part of the much larger Lincoln Highway, conceived by Indiana road enthusiast Carl Fisher in 1912 to run from New York City's Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Like New Jersey's own George Blakeslee, Fisher saw the benefits of reliable, well-maintained roads for the nation's commerce and mobility. The privately-funded highway was to take in and improve a network of existing thoroughfares to create a direct transcontinental route. Promoting the road through the Lincoln Highway Association, Fisher hoped that contributions from automobile manufacturers and private citizens would find the improvement of the 3400-mile route.

If you try to follow the highway's original path through New Jersey these days, you get a good education in how roads and cities evolved to address the needs of a growing population. According to the website of the re-invigorated Lincoln Highway Association, travelers would take New York's 42nd Street west to a ferry, a necessary step more than two decades before the start of construction on the Lincoln Tunnel. Once across the Hudson in Weehawken, the highway coursed up the Palisades on Pershing Road, taking 49th Street to what was then Hudson County Boulevard into Jersey City and along the old Newark Plank Road through West Side Park, which was renamed Lincoln Park at the statue's installation in 1930. It traversed the Meadowlands along what's now Truck Route 1 and 9, well before the construction of the Pulaski Skyway.

Once in Newark, the road took already-congested city streets until it linked with current-day Route 27, which took it southwest through Elizabeth, Rahway, Edison, New Brunswick and Princeton. That portion of the highway has its roots in a road originally laid out by Dutch colonists as early as 1675. The southernmost section, now U.S. 206, brought the highway from Princeton through Trenton and into Pennsylvania. In the ensuing years, the route was adjusted several times to account for changing conditions, including the opening of the Holland Tunnel.

The Federal government got into the road business not long after World War I, endorsing Fisher's and Blakeslee's basic ideas but inadvertently ringing the death knell for the Lincoln Highway as the transcontinental route. Connecting towns and cities with reliable paved roads meant mobility, not just to transport goods from farm or factory to market, but for people to explore the country七乐彩彩票登录 beyond their own community. While the Lincoln Highway was never fully completed from coast to coast, it paved the way for uniform long distance road standards and the eventual establishment of our interstate highway system.

In recent years, New Jersey's reinvigorated chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association has been placing commemorative markers on strategic points along the road's route. They're metal in Lincoln Park but at least one concrete post has been installed on Route 27 in Edison. Have you seen any?


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reporting for Hidden New Jersey has made me a real fan of the statues that stand in many of our older parks. Where I once took them for granted, I've come to realize that they often say a lot about the communities they're in: what the locals find important and what they value.

Take, for example, the Lincoln sculpture at the JFK Boulevard entrance to Jersey City's Lincoln Park. Memorials to our sixteenth president are common enough in cities and towns in the northern states, but there's something remarkable about this one. It's said to have been the second-largest Lincoln monument at its dedication, but what's even more notable is its design and how it got there in the first place.

Ivan found it and thought enough of it to bring me to visit it. Indeed, I could see why he found it so remarkable. Unlike the more majestic representation at his memorial in Washington, D.C., the seated, clean-shaven Jersey City Lincoln sits pensively on a boulder, seeming to contemplate a troubling issue. An adjacent plaque labels it "Mystic Lincoln," erected in 1930 by the Lincoln Association of Jersey City, with contributions from local 七乐彩彩票平台 children. Ringed by a semi-circular bench, the statue invites passers-by to stop and consider the president's work and the challenges he took on during his tenure. In this deeply personal work, sculptor James Earle Fraser depicted a very human man with troubles that reached into his very core.

Digging a bit deeper into its history, I discovered that the statue also represents an enduring dedication to Lincoln and his achievements. Jersey City is 七乐彩彩票app下载 to the nation's oldest continually-operating Lincoln Association, which has met on February 12 every year since 1867 to commemorate the Great Emancipator's birth.

Though New Jersey's electoral votes failed to go to Lincoln in both of his elections and opinions of him were mixed, Jersey City was 七乐彩彩票app下载 to many who supported the president before and after his untimely death. According to its website, the founders of the association were civic leaders and businessmen who vowed to meet annually to "discuss the obstacles [Lincoln] overcame in his early years, his firm and fair philosophy, his vision and courage, and his many achievements."

Since then, the yearly ceremonies have included re-enactments and readings from Lincoln scholars. Anyone who reveres the former president's memory is welcome to attend the events, which are now held at the sculpture and in the Casino in the Park nearby.

Just as important as the annual event is the daily presence of Lincoln's words, themselves, in the walls within the memorial area:

"That government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth." 

"With malice toward none and charity toward all." 

"Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it." 

Immortal words all, and well worth considering through the ages.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We've talked many times before about having to stop on the side of a highway to get a good look at a historic marker. The process usually involves a two-second debate over the need to stop ("Wanna check it out?" "Yes."), possibly a five minute look for a decent place to do a U-turn, then a backtrack and maybe even a dash across the road to check it out.

It's something to see, but safely! The Blakeslee Monument, in all its
highway-island glory. Photo by Bill Coughlin, January 10, 2012,
courtesy .
This one takes the process to an extreme: it's challenging to get to, standing, as it does, on a triangular traffic island bordered by U.S. 1&9, Broadway and Wallis Avenue in Jersey City. Try making a U-turn there! Anyway, I've known about it for a while (I could swear I read about the marker in one of Robert Sullivan's books, either The Meadowlands or Cross Country, but I can't seem to find it in either one), but just haven't had the opportunity to get a photo of it (thanks, , for the assist).

The really cool aspect of this monument on a traffic island is what it celebrates: a roads advocate. At the same time, a guy who dedicated his life to reducing the hassles of driving, becomes, himself an impediment to those road enthusiasts who want to honor him with a visit.

Ironies aside, the Blakeslee Monument celebrates the contributions of one George E. Blakeslee, who is said, by some, to be the father of good roads or the pioneer of the modern highway. The tangles of macadam and concrete we rely on today had to come from somewhere, and people like Blakeslee had the foresight to realize that without sound pavement and logical routes, motorists and commerce would, well, go nowhere.

As we learned from our look into the confusing history of our numbered state roads, New Jersey's first concerted effort to standardize the highway system came in 1916 with the passage of the Egan Good Roads Bill. Through it, the state established funding for 13 numbered highways linking our major cities. Travelers accustomed to roads designed for horse-drawn traffic would now enjoy the benefits of more durable thoroughfares engineered for more punishing motor vehicle traffic.

Photo by Bill Coughlin, January 10, 2012,
courtesy .  
George Blakeslee was the driving force behind that bill, which called for a $7 million bond issue to pay for paving roads with "granite, asphalt or wood blocks, brick, concrete, bituminous concrete, asphalt or other pavement having a hard surface and durable character." (Macadam, while cheaper to install than concrete or brick, was more expensive to maintain over the long run.) Not a legislator himself, he instead went with the time-honored tradition of paying a lawyer七乐彩彩票app下载 to write the legislation and finding a lawmaker to introduce it. In this case, the lawmaker was Senator Charles Egan of Hudson County.

Blakeslee's motivations weren't completely altruistic: he had his own parochial interest in improving the state's road system. Having first sold bicycles in the 1890s, he later opened a Cadillac showroom on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City and owned a network of gasoline stations in Hudson County. He'd clearly benefit from an improvement to the unreliable patchwork of existing roads, but, as he said himself, the wide variability of road conditions spoke for itself.

The Good Roads bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor James Fairman Fielder, yet required approval through a public question on the November 1916 ballot. Despite the concerns of the State Chamber of Commerce, which questioned whether motor vehicle fees and fines would sufficiently cover the expense of the bond issue, voters approved the bill, and the state highway commission was formed a year later.

When a vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River was first proposed a few years later, Blakeslee advocated for a viaduct connecting what was then the Lincoln Highway to what became the Holland Tunnel. Not surprisingly, it appears to be just about where the Blakeslee Monument stands today. Originally dedicated in 1931, the marker memorializes the naming of Route 1 as the Blakeslee Route in honor of his dedication to the improvement of the state's and nation's roads. The Father of Good Roads didn't live long enough to see it, though: he died of pneumonia in 1919, having taken ill when returning to Jersey City from Detroit via train.



Monday, December 16, 2013

It should come as no shock that we Hidden New Jerseyans spend a lot of time on the road, whether it be for birding or to scout out more obscure history. From time to time, we've highlighted a couple of those roads, like the Pulaski Skyway and the White Horse Pike, and of course, the mighty Turnpike, but we've never talked much about the numbered roads, with the exception of the shortest one.

Between us, Ivan and I are at least reasonably conversant about the highways that criss-cross the state, so when we led a talk at the Sussex County library this past summer, we felt pretty confident in answering an audience member's question about the road system in place during the Cat Swamp hijacking of 1921. But as only lifelong residents can, another audience member clarified, "Route 46 was Route 6 then."

Ah, yes. Forget about traffic: our roads have the power to confuse on a whole different dimension.

A treatise on the history of New Jersey's road system could go on for thousands of words. Suffice to say it's been a continual work in progress since the Lenape discovered that spending the summer down the shore was a pretty great idea. With the arrival of European settlers, some of the natives' paths became carriage and stagecoach routes and eventually some of the roads we know so well today. Others were forged by the newcomers, using the best technologies of the day to surmount environmental challenges that had frustrated earlier efforts. Paterson Plank Road in the Meadowlands, for example, was paved literally with wood planks that prevented horses and carriages from sinking into the murky marsh.

Corporations were initially chartered in the early 18th century to build a series of turnpikes, but over time, investors shifted their money into canals and railroads, leaving many roads underfunded. By the dawn of the 20th century, the state had assumed ownership and maintenance of the derelict pikes. The 1916 Egan Good Roads Bill established funding for 13 numbered state highways, with routes largely linking the state's larger cities. Additional legislation the following year established two more roads and a state highway department; one more road was added in 1921.

At that point, the barn door was open. The increasing number of motorists wanted a decent road to drive on, and the business community was clamoring for well-maintained highways to get raw materials to factories and finished product to market. I don't know if frustration with state bureaucracy had anything to do with it, but local politicians started to take matters into their own hands. By 1930 the miles of paved road in New Jersey had doubled, engendering confusion along the way. In their zeal to get roads into service, local authorities had started numbering them with no regard for how other highways in the state were labeled. As a result, drivers could drive one Route 18 from Camden to Toms River, another 18 between Penns Grove and Atlantic City, or from Hoboken to Alpine. A realignment in 1923 helpfully added "N" or "S" to some road designations, but seriously? This was supposed to make sense?

Yet another law in 1927 sought to regain some order statewide, renumbering roads within a system that added logic to the mix. Routes 1 through 12 were in the northernmost part of the state, 21 through 28 originated in or near Newark, 29 through 37 started in Trenton, 38-47 radiated from Camden, and 48 through 50 were in the southernmost reaches. Still, though, Route 25 eventually spawned a series of roads called S-25, 25-A, 25-AD, 25-B, 25-M and 25-T.

Then there was the confusion between the state highway numbering system and the federal designations. State 29, at one point, shared pavement with U.S. 22 for several miles before the two routes diverged. It wasn't till 1953 that the mess was finally settled with a set of rules that forbade giving a state road the same number as a Federal road, assured that numbers matched when New Jersey roads flowed into New York or Pennsylvania, and declared that roads could not have both a state and Federal number. And clarifying another issue brought up with the new "superhighways," neither the Garden State Parkway nor the New Jersey Turnpike would have route numbers, though they'd earlier been assigned the numbers 400 and 100, respectively. The now-familiar "black square surrounding white circle" state road sign design was also introduced starting in 1954.

We often joke about needing to be 'from here' to know where the roads go, but imagine the confusion launched 60 years ago by all of the changes. Cartographers raced to make the necessary changes to their products, with the State Highway Department spending 250 staff hours updating the official map. Officials had already coordinated with the gasoline companies and motorists' clubs to ensure that their courtesy maps reflected the new reality of New Jersey roads.

The old state highway signs are long retired, but you can still find vestiges of the old numbering system on some of the aging bridges of the earlier highways. Look for the aggregate cement structures along the outer shoulders of the road, and you might see an unfamiliar road designation set, literally, in stone.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ghosts of Turnpike service areas, silent on the Newark Bay Extension

Drive eastbound on the Turnpike's Newark Bay extension, and as you approach Exit 14B for Liberty State Park, you might notice the road widens somewhat briefly on both sides. It's almost as if the road's a big snake that's swallowed a mouse but hasn't yet digested it. In recent years, the widenings have been filled with construction equipment and materials for the construction work being done on the Vincent Casciano Bridge over Newark Bay. Every time I pass them, I get this nagging feeling that the spots were once small service areas many, many years ago.

Turns out they were.

Details are rather scant, but it seems that the pair were named for John Stevens (eastbound) and Peter Stuyvesant (westbound), two personalities with connections to the Hudson County area.

Stevens, of course, is the name of a notable early New Jersey family with roots in Perth Amboy. The first famous John Stevens was born in 1715 and served in the Continental Congress. His son John was as an officer in the Continental Army and later did duty as state treasurer. The younger man's greater fame, however, came through his contributions to transportation, particularly using steam power. His craft Phoenix became the first steamship to sail the open ocean when it traveled from Hoboken to Philadelphia in 1809. More famously, he established the first steam ferry service between Hoboken and New York City in 1811.

A few years later, Stevens and several partners were awarded the nation's first railroad charter, establishing the New Jersey Railroad. Predictably, he experimented with steam-driven trains at his Castle Point estate in Hoboken. After his death, the property passed to his son Edwin, who later bequeathed the land and a million dollars for establishment of an institution of learning, now Stevens Institute of Technology.

Peter Stuyvesant, well, he's probably a bit better known, but more commonly associated with New York. In the days when the Dutch West Indies 七乐彩彩票app下载 ran Manhattan and surrounding areas as a business, Stuyvesant was sent to essentially clean house as director general of New Netherlands. His immediate predecessors had both mismanaged the colony and turned a blind eye toward some rather, well, permissive behavior.

Stuyvesant's tenure was a mixed bag. On the positive side, he negotiated disputes with the Lenape, fostered education and is credited with many reforms that encouraged a more family-oriented environment in the colony. Unfortunately, he also squelched religious freedom in a community that had long advocated tolerance; his actions against houses of worship other than the Dutch Reformed Church were ultimately rescinded by Dutch West Indies 七乐彩彩票app下载 directors.

I was a bit confused as to why he warranted a Turnpike service area, until I read that he opened the land west of Manhattan for settlement. Some consider him to be a founder of Jersey City, crediting him with overseeing the formation of the village of Bergen, now the location of the city's Bergen Square.

Back on the Turnpike, the Stevens and Stuyvesant service areas were closed in the early 1970s. I haven't uncovered a reason why, but I'd conjecture that they were either too small or too disruptive to the flow of traffic rushing toward or from the Holland Tunnel. Drivers can get their last (or first) taste of lower-priced New Jersey gasoline closer to the Tunnel, so perhaps the Turnpike options were priced out of existence in during the oil crisis of 1973. Your guess is as good as mine.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Drivers in North Jersey have a love-hate relationship with the Pulaski Skyway. It's a toll-free alternative to the Turnpike's Newark Bay Extension if you want to get to the Holland Tunnel, but it's also a narrow, claustrophobic and often clogged artery that lacks anyplace for a disabled vehicle to pull over. Anybody who uses the Pulaski on a regular basis will tell you that the road is incredibly outdated, dangerous, way too small for the volume of traffic that uses it, you name it. And there are people who say its black-painted cantilevered bridges add to the ugliness of one of the most industrialized parts of the state.

Say what you want about it, but when it opened in 1932 as the Route 1 extension, it was lauded as the Most Beautiful Steel Structure by the American Institute of Steel Construction. The WPA Guide to New Jersey deemed it "outstanding among state highways" and a "pioneer achievement in ... handling through traffic in one of the most congested areas of the world," especially given the challenges of road building in the marshy terrain. Its cantilevered bridges cross both the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers at a clearance of 135 feet to accommodate War Department requirements; presumably for the safe passage of naval vessels. I can't imagine a warship traversing that far up either river today, but I guess they weren't leaving anything to chance.

The highway was a huge timesaver for motorists attempting to travel between Newark and New York, who had previously been forced to traverse the marshlands in a two-and-a-half hour odyssey of local roads and drawbridges. The opening of the Skyway reduced that trip to an estimated 15 minutes. Engineers promoted its virtues in terms of vehicle miles saved, estimating that the availability of the 3.5 mile long elevated road would save car drivers over 57 million miles of driving per year.

With all of those advantages, why has the Pulaski become such a target of fear and avoidance? According to the State Department of Transportation, its design represents "one of the first attempts to create a coherent elevated highway network," but it seems the attempt wasn't all that successful. Believe it or not, the Skyway was designed by railroad engineers who knew a lot about building train viaducts but not much about roads, and it shows. The lanes are a slim 11 feet across, and where there's now a center divider was originally a breakdown lane that both directions of traffic used as a de-facto passing lane, resulting in many accidents.

And while the Pulaski was envisioned as an expressway between its two terminal cities, powerful Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague insisted that entrance lanes be added midway, in a part of the city he felt was ripe for development. He may have been correct, but in the meantime, he demanded the creation of some pretty scary, steep ramps leading directly into heavy traffic. (Hague was also locked in a bitter battle with union leadership that resulted in a virtual labor war and the death of one worker, but that's a story for another time.)

First called the Diagonal Highway, the causeway was named for Casimir Pulaski shortly after its dedication. A Polish nobleman who fought in the American Revolution, he's considered by some to be the father of the U.S. cavalry. It's said that he was a dashing figure, both brave and aggressive in battle, traits that would serve a Skyway traveler well. If you're feeling particularly brave or foolhardy, the Pulaski also offers slim pedestrian walkways on its outer edges, where shoulders might have been a wiser addition. (Anybody up for a nice Sunday stroll over the meadows?)

The State Department of Transportation recently announced an eight-year, $1 billion project to rehabilitate the Skyway, with some of the work already underway. The biggest hassle will be the deck replacement that will require the closing of Jersey City-bound lanes next year. Ramps will also be updated, seismic structural repairs done, and the whole shebang will get a coat of paint at the end. The DOT estimates that the fixes will add another 75 years to the life of the road.

Some might wonder why they don't just take the whole thing down and build a new highway, but between demolition and construction, the cost would far exceed the rehab budget. As it is, engineers and construction crews will need to honor the original design intent, as the Pulaski is listed on both the State and National Historic Registers. And given the amount of development that's grown around it in the past 80 years, any major structural changes would disrupt a lot more than local traffic. Love it or hate it, the Pulaski Skyway is with us to stay.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Highway history, made in Hunterdon County

You know Jersey barriers, right? Those concrete dividers in the middle of major highways? The ones that are designed to keep drivers from swerving into oncoming traffic?

I always assumed that they were invented by the folks who brought us the New Jersey Turnpike. Given how many innovations its designers contributed to highway engineering, it only seemed natural, so imagine my surprise when Ivan and I passed this historical marker on Route 173 in Hunterdon County.


The Encyclopedia of New Jersey tells us that the Jersey barrier was "developed ... to minimize the number of out-of-control trucks penetrating the median and eliminate the need for costly and dangerous steel guardrail median barrier maintenance in high-accident locations with narrow medians." Sounds like a problem for a major highway, right? Who'd have thought that the first place it would be installed would be cow country七乐彩彩票登录?

On second thought, it makes a lot of sense. I can see where western New Jersey would be a good test area, with lots of two-lane roads where opposing traffic could easily stray in darkness or bad weather, or drunkenness on the part of the driver. As the sign in Bethlehem Township infers, there were plenty of bad accidents right on 173 that likely could have been prevented with a partition separating traffic.

Further research reveals that the original 32-inch barrier was developed at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, under the direction of the state Department of Transportation. The Turnpike Authority later used that design and an Ontario variant to create a highly-reinforced model that effectively shunts errant semi trucks back into the proper lane of traffic.

The irony is that while we saw Jersey barriers all along Route 78 on our trip toward the historical marker, there are no barriers at all on 173. Instead, there's a turning lane in the center of the road, shared by both directions of traffic. It's kind of a shame there's not at least a little bit of the original barrier left in the road, sort of our own New Jersey version of the Berlin Wall. Wouldn't it be cool if there's a remnant of it being preserved somewhere?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Since I was a kid, it's been on my bucket list to walk one of New Jersey's highways from end to end. I'd read 's accounts of hiking Route 1 and Route 22, and the idea, while a bit crazy, seemed like a good one. You can see a lot more at a walking pace than you ever could from a speeding car.

There are a lot of logistics to consider before you take on a highway walk. Where will you stay at the end of the day? Do you have someone pick you up, drive you 七乐彩彩票app下载 and then return you the next morning to the place where you left off, or do you find a motel? How much sustenance do you carry? And how do you deal with the lack of sidewalks? Traffic has gotten heavier and faster since Rockland made his treks in the late 70's, so perhaps his methods wouldn't suffice. Obviously, I need to select my walking highway very carefully.

I think I've found it: State Route 59. Lined with a sidewalk for its full length, its traffic is reasonable and I'm certain I could walk it in a single day. If I can't there's definitely something wrong: it's only 0.15 miles long.

Planned route for NJ 22.
Why in heck would the state build such a short highway? The simple answer is that it didn't mean to. Originally designated State Highway 22, the road was to stretch from the Pine Brook bridge in West Caldwell to Route 27 in Rahway. For some reason, plans never came to fruition, so we're left with a brief bit of road that passes under the Raritan Valley Line railroad bridge, as well as a classic concrete New Jersey highway bridge railing at the intersection of 59 and State Route 28 in Garwood.

If you stand next to that concrete bridge rail and look north, you stare straight at an old residential neighborhood. Maybe that was part of the issue -- the state would have had a heck of a time gaining the necessary property for the road, even with eminent domain.

Looking at the inscriptions on the end posts on the concrete bridge, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the road was intended to be a spur of or replacement for the highway we know today as US Route 22. Route 59 was, in fact, originally designated as State Route 22, even though US 22 already existed in New Jersey (however, in Union and Essex Counties, US 22 was known as State Highway 29, which doesn't intersect with current day State 29 in the Trenton/Lambertville area. Confused yet?). This and other thoroughfare perplexities necessitated highway renumberings in 1927 and again in 1953, when our little 0.15 mile of heaven was redesignated as 59. Nobody made the change on the bridge marker, though, so observant passers-by will no doubt have fun trying to figure out how much more convoluted 22 could possibly get.

One of these days, I'll hit the road and actually walk the length of 59. I'll park at the Walgreens at the southern end, carefully cross the driveway, walk under the railroad overpass and continue past the empty lot to the right until I reach the corner. I might even cross Route 28 to check out the concrete bridge and then head to the adjacent liquor store for a celebratory beverage. I won't want to drink it there, though: it'll be another road crossing and a little more than a tenth of a mile to get back to my car. That's not nearly enough time to get my blood alcohol content down to drive legally.