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FreightWaves Classics/Infrastructure: New Jersey Turnpike dedicated 70 years ago (Part 2)

A car and truck on the New Jersey Turnpike. (Photo: njspotlightnews.org)

Part 1 of this article ran yesterday, which was the 70th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike’s (NJTP) dedication.

The New Jersey Turnpike logo. (Image: NJTA)

The Turnpike’s roadways

Before construction on the Interstate Highway System (IHS) began in 1956, the entire Turnpike was designated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) as Route 700 (although it never had signs to designate this). The Pearl Harbor Memorial Turnpike Extension was Route 700P, and the Newark Bay Extension was Route 700N. Because construction of the IHS began five years after the first iteration of the NJTP was completed, some of its design guidelines were also used for the IHS.  

The northern part of the primary Turnpike, as well as its extensions and spurs, are part of the IHS. The NJTP’s entire length is part of the National Highway System, a network of roads important to the country’s economy, defense and mobility. You can read a FreightWaves Classics article about the National Highway System here.

New Jersey is the nation's most densely populated state. The Turnpike is "hemmed in" along its route, as seen in this photo of Elizabeth, New Jersey. (Photo: historymatters.gmu.edu)
New Jersey is the nation’s most densely populated state. The Turnpike is “hemmed in” along its route, as seen in this photo of Elizabeth, New Jersey. (Photo: historymatters.gmu.edu)

The mainline of the NJTP splits from I-295 in Carneys Point Township and runs north-northeast to Ridgefield Park, where the road continues as I-95. As noted above, the Turnpike is designated Route 700 (although unsigned), from exit 1 (Delaware Memorial Bridge) to exit 6, and as I-95 from exit 6 (Mansfield Township) to exit 18 (Secaucus-Carlstadt). The number of lanes ranges from four lanes south of exit 4, six lanes between exit 4 and exit 6, 12 lanes between exit 6 and exit 11 and 14 lanes between exit 11 and exit 14. The default speed limit is 65 miles per hour between the Turnpike’s southern end and milepost 97, and 55 miles per hour from there to its northern end. The Turnpike has variable speed limit signs allowing for the limit to be lowered temporarily during unusual road conditions.

The NJTP has three extensions and two spurs, including the Newark Bay Extension at exit 14, which is part of I-78; the Pennsylvania Turnpike Extension (officially the Pearl Harbor Memorial Turnpike Extension) at exit 6 which is signed I-95 off the mainline turnpike; the Eastern Spur and the Western Spur, which split traffic between Newark and Ridgefield; and the I-95 Extension which continues the mainline to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. All segments except for the I-95 Extension are tolled.


Between exits 6 and 14 the Turnpike is divided into four roadways. The inner lanes are normally restricted to cars; the outer lanes are used by cars, trucks and buses. The Turnpike’s lanes are 12 feet wide, and there are 10-foot-wide shoulders. There are 13 rest areas along the Turnpike; they are named for notable New Jersey residents. 

Western Spur

The Harry Laderman Bridge carries the Turnpike’s Western Spur over the Passaic River. It was named for the first Turnpike employee killed while on the job. The Western Spur runs north and has six lanes. It has an interchange with I-280, crosses over Route 7, then crosses New Jersey Transit’s Main Line and then its Bergen County Line. In East Rutherford there is a junction with Route 3; at that point the Western Spur narrows to four lanes. The highway reaches the Exit 18W Toll Plaza and then passes the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The Western Spur then crosses the Hackensack River, passes by the Vince Lombardi Service Area and merges with the Eastern Spur.

A 1954 photo shows construction of the New Jersey Turnpike Extension across Newark Bay between Port Newark and Bayonne. (Photo: Bobby Cole Photo Archives/NJ.com)
A 1954 photo shows construction of the New Jersey Turnpike Extension across Newark Bay between Port Newark and Bayonne. (Photo: Bobby Cole Photo Archives/NJ.com)

Extensions

As noted above the NJTP has three extensions: the first, the Newark Bay Extension is 8.2 miles long, opened in 1956 and is part of I-78. It connects the city of Newark with Lower Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City and intersects the primary Turnpike near Newark Liberty International Airport. This extension has three exits and because of its design (four lanes with a shoulder-less barrier divider), has a 50-mph speed limit. The extension traverses the Vincent R. Casciano Memorial Bridge, a steel cantilever bridge spanning Newark Bay and connecting Newark and Bayonne. The Newark Bay Extension was completed on April 4, 1956.  

The Pearl Harbor Memorial Turnpike Extension is the second extension. It is also known as the  Pennsylvania Turnpike Connector; it carries I-95 off the NJTP’s mainline at exit 6 and connects to the Pennsylvania Turnpike via the Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge, a continuous truss bridge that spans the Delaware River. Six miles long, this six-lane highway has an exit to US 130 near Florence. The extension was officially designated and signed as I-95 when the first components of the Pennsylvania Turnpike/Interstate 95 Interchange Project were completed on September 22, 2018.

The third extension is the four-mile section of I-95 north of US 46. It came under New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) jurisdiction in 1992 when NJDOT sold the road to balance the state budget. This section of the road – known as the I-95 Extension – travels past the interchange for I-80 in Teaneck, and through a cut in the Hudson Palisades at GWB Plaza. The Turnpike ends at US 9W; the final approaches to the George Washington Bridge along I-95 are maintained by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This part of the turnpike is divided into local and express lanes as it approaches the George Washington Bridge. 

The Turnpike widening project between exits 6 and 9. (Photo: Bob Schatz/dewberry.com)
The Turnpike widening project between exits 6 and 9. (Photo: Bob Schatz/dewberry.com)

Turnpike upgrades

The Turnpike introduced its “dual-dual” roadway system in 1966. In this system, the inner roadways are for passenger cars only; the outer roadways are used by all vehicles.

Over the years, traffic has increased dramatically on the Turnpike (as it has on most U.S. highways). To increase traffic efficiency the NJTA developed an “automatic surveillance and control system.” This system provides information from 965 embedded road sensors and from a series of closed-circuit cameras to the Turnpike Traffic Operations Center, which is located in New Brunswick. In addition, the system controls the changeable message signs along the Turnpike. Staff members at the Operations Center use the message signs to change speed limits and to alert drivers to congestion, accidents or other hazardous road conditions.

1950s-1980s

Traffic volume on the Turnpike was much heavier than estimates made during its planning phase. Therefore, in 1955 – only three years after it opened – the NJTA began the Turnpike’s first widening project. It was widened from four to six lanes (three in each direction) between exit 4 (in Mount Laurel Township) and exit 10 (in Woodbridge Township), and from four lanes to an eight-lane, “dual-dual setup (2-2-2-2 – two express carriageways and two local carriageways in each direction)” between exits 10 and 14 in Newark.

The Turnpike was widened again between exit 10 and exit 14 in 1966. The express-local roadway plan was changed to the car and truck-buses lane configuration (3-3-3-3). In addition, the old exit 10 at Woodbridge was closed; it was replaced by a new exit 10 in Edison Township. Also, exit 11 was rebuilt to provide better access to the Garden State Parkway. The dual-dual configuration was used when the NJTA widened the Turnpike south from exit 10 to exit 9 in 1973, and again in 1990 when the Turnpike was widened to exit 8A in 1990. 

A box truck enters the Turnpike. (Photo: alpsroads.net)
A box truck enters the Turnpike. (Photo: alpsroads.net)

2000s

On September 30, 2000 the authority began using E-ZPass for electronic toll collection.

The NJTA opened a new toll plaza at exit 1 in July 2004. It included a 23-lane toll complex. It has a glass-enclosed overhead walkway for toll collectors, as well as “a concrete lighthouse to serve as a ‘gateway’ to the state as well as to the turnpike.” There are five north-bound lanes, 14 south-bound lanes and two E-ZPass Express Lanes in both directions.

During 2005, exit 15X was opened; it allows access to the Secaucus Junction train station. As noted in Part 1, when the Eastern Spur was originally built it was constructed to run under the Pulaski Skyway (US 1/9) for budgetary reasons. The NJTA rebuilt the Turnpike at that location in 2005 by further lowering the spur. When it was completed there was a minimum 15-foot vertical clearance and a 12-foot horizontal clearance on the shoulders underneath the Skyway.

Also during the 2000s, several bridge decks along the Turnpike were repaired and/or improved by the NJTA. Also, several exits were upgraded, new entrance/exit ramps were built and new toll plazas were constructed. 

Part of the NJTP widening project. (Photo: njturnpikewidening.com)
Part of the NJTP widening project. (Photo: njturnpikewidening.com)

2010s

The NJTA updated its toll system when it began accepting E-ZPass at all NJTP toll lanes at all turnpike toll plazas and interchanges on March 5, 2011.

Throughout the decade the Authority made improvements along the Turnpike to help traffic flow and make the Turnpike safer. For example, at exit 16E, the Route 495 westbound overpass across the Turnpike was rebuilt. At exit 2, where the Turnpike intersects US 322, the intersection was widened and turn lanes were built on all approaches. In addition, a traffic signal was installed at the entrance to the Turnpike on US 322. 

The largest reconstruction project was to widen the Turnpike from exit 8A south to exit 6, a distance of just over 20 miles. The Turnpike was expanded from its 2-3-3-2 configuration. Only final preparation and paving of an outer lane in the outer roadways were required to accommodate the extra lane. The newly widened Turnpike featured six lanes in each direction (3-3-3-3), which was double the previous capacity. Also, the exit 6, 7, 7A, 8 and 8A interchanges were upgraded and new signage and lighting were installed as part of the widening project. 

This photo shows the Turnpike's configuration. (Photo: nj1015.com)
This photo shows the Turnpike’s configuration. (Photo: nj1015.com)

The same configuration widened the Turnpike between exit 9 and exit 8A. Minimal construction was needed for that project because overpasses had already been built with future expansion in mind. 

A  ceremonial groundbreaking was held near exit 8 to begin the widening project on July 2, 2009. Six northbound lanes between exits 6 and 9 were opened by the NJTA on October 26, 2014; the southbound lanes opened on November 3, 2014. The overall cost of these projects was $2.3 billion. More than 1,000 workers were employed daily on the projects, and at one point the mega-project was the largest active road construction project in the Western Hemisphere.

Cars at a Turnpike toll plaza. (Photo: nj.com)
Cars at a Turnpike toll plaza. (Photo: nj.com)

Tolls

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority voted to increase the tolls on the Turnpike on May 27, 2020. The driver of a car that is driven the length of the Turnpike (from exit 1 to exit 18W) now pays $18.85 for the trip. For the largest trucks, the cost to drive the length of the Turnpike is now $77.30. In 1952 (the first full year of Turnpike operations), the cost to drive a car along its entire length was $1.75.

Wrap-up

The New Jersey Turnpike is 70 years and one day old today. During that time period the population of the United States has more than doubled – from nearly 151 million to nearly 330 million. New Jersey’s population at this time is nearly 9.3 million; in 1951 it was 5 million. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country. And, of course the population along the Eastern Seaboard has also increased significantly. 

Increased population means increased traffic. The New Jersey Turnpike is much busier (and much more congested) than it was 70 years ago. The NJTA has widened and improved the Turnpike many times over the last 70 years, and will continue to do so as conditions permit.

A postcard of the Turnpike in a much simpler, less congested time... (Image: New Jersey Historical Society)
A postcard of the Turnpike in a much simpler, less congested time… (Image: New Jersey Historical Society)

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.