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Monday, May 23, 2005

A tale of 2.3 turnpikes

From colonial times, the corridor between New York and Philadelphia - indeed, the corridor along the entire eastern seaboard - has been heavily traveled first by stagecoach, and later by motor vehicles. This corridor placed New Jersey as the key link in the East Coast travel chain. With the introduction of automobiles, this corridor took on even greater importance.

Since it opened in 1952, the turnpike has operated on a "ticket" system in which motorists, upon entering the turnpike, receive a magnetically encoded ticket. The ticket, which indicates the vehicle class and point of origin, is surrendered when the motorist exits. The toll is calculated when the ticket is processed by the toll collector. In the 27 toll plazas, there are a total of 328 toll lanes.

The New Jersey Turnpike is designated I-95 from EXIT 6 (Pennsylvania Turnpike Extension) to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza. Until recently, the I-95 designation only went as far south as EXIT 10. Originally, the state of New Jersey planned to construct a 29-mile stretch of I-95, from I-287 in Middlesex County south to Mercer County, on a route parallel to US 1 and the New Jersey Turnpike The proposed I-95 "missing link" through central New Jersey was abandoned in the early 1980's.
I recently wandered upon NYC Roads. Here, you can learn an endless amount of useless facts about the roads in and around NYC. The most interesting information I found was a more than complete history of the NJ Turnpike. This is a road I have traveled many times.

To me, there are 2.3 turnpikes. One of them is a parking lot. Exit 6, 7a and 8a can be a real bitch where you creep along slower than a horse and carriage - not to mention the miles of road leading up to these exits where much the same can be expected. This turnpike lives and breaths during the day and is a true force to be dealt with on a warm spring or summer day. And if you think that's bad, add a holiday weekend to the mix and you're talking about a 4 hour ride through hell!

Then there's the second, much more fun, exciting and dangerous turnpike. On this road, speeds of 85, 90 and even the occasional 100 plus are easily possible. This road is rarely seen during the day (sometimes on weekends, in the winter). Mostly, it comes out at night - usually after 7 or 8, but man is it worth the wait. In many cases it is a complete free for all for 1000's of cars, where almost anything goes. It is expected that you will be cutoff - probably more than once (and most likely by me). For some, with it's long straight aways and more than gracious curves, it literally turns into a race track. Many a late night I have seen pools of 2, 3, 4 tricked out cars go whizzing by at speeds my car and my soul can only imagine - even when I'm doing 90.

The other .3 of the turnpike exists in some kind of turnpike limbo. It's presence is ever constant although it is not as prevalent as the first two turnpikes I described. On this turnpike you cruise at a comfortable, yet annoying 60-65 mph locked in with cars 4 feet in front, 4 feet behind and a few feet to either side of you.