Exit numbering on the New Jersey Turnpike - WEEKEND DIGRESSION

December 14, 2007

A lot about the New Jersey Turnpike makes no sense. The "Exits" for a start. You do exit the Turnpike from an Exit, it's true. But to get onto the Turnpike you have to enter via an Exit also. TOLLROADSnews researches indicate that approximately an equal number of motorists enter the New Jersey Turnpike via Exits as exit via them.

To be precise there may be a tad more vehicles entering via the Exits than exiting due to motorists en route having driven off the roadway into the Meadowlands swamp never to be heard of again, but such numbers would not be statistically significant, as a researcher would say.

Statistics aside, it just doesn't seem right to be entering by an Exit, though I have to confess to having exited via an Entry occasionally out of a McDonalds parking lot onto the local street. But I felt a bit sneaky, a bit of a cheat.

Entering via an Exit just seems like breaking the rules. Except in New Jersey.

Everywhere else in the country the interchanges - Exits in New Jersey - seem to be numbered by milepost. I think they should be kilometers because being an immigrant. I learned those, they're easier, and I'm a metrics freak. But mile posts or mile markers are OK too.

The Garden State Parkway numbers interchanges by milemarkers - proving what can be done in the rest of the country is possible to do in New Jersey.

Numbering interchanges (Exits on the NJ Turnpike) by the nearest milemarker just makes life a little easier for the traveler. Most people have a sense of whether they've gone 5 miles or 25 miles or 75 miles and they can read the mile markers. If you see mile marker 71 and you plan on getting off at an interchange called Interchange 74 you know you're nearing your exit. But on the New Jersey Turnpike the dumb thing is called Exit 8A.

How does Mile Marker 71 help you find 8A I ask you?

Joseph P Barnes PE of Delware is responsible

History tells us the New Jersey Turnpike was numbered by an engineer named Joseph P Barnes (1915-1986) from Delaware. Barnes couldn't do pavement or bridges so they gave him Exit Numbering.

A dummy from anywhere else would have started sequential numbering from New York, from say the George Washington Bridge and numbered south. Everyone, after all, comes from New York - at one time or another.

Only someone from Delaware would have numbered northward... from Delaware.

Of course the manner in which they laid out the New Jersey Turnpike makes any kind of logical numbering a brain strain even for an average engineer. Around Newark - traveling up from Delaware - the darned thing splits up and goes in three directions.

First: off Exit 14 there is the Turnpike Extension - now there's a brilliantly descriptive identifier eh? - and the Turnpike Extension has Exits 14A, 14B and 14C on the way to the Holland Tunnel.

Someone wanting to be helpful would named it the Holland Extension, the Holland Connection, the Holland Spur, or the Holland something. Or they could have called it the Jersey City Turnpike because that's where it is - in Jersey City.

Extension isn't even right really.

Extensions are supposed to extend, or make longer what you already have. Hence on the Dallas North Tollway they have had a succession of DNT extensions, all taking it further north, so that soon it will be in Oklahoma.

Jersey City Spur would have been a logical name too, because it is a spur off the Turnpike mainline.

Nah, nah, nah, they call it the blah Turnpike Extension, intended to get you screaming "extension to where, for gawd's sake?"

But now let's assume you avoided the Turnpike's Extension to Nowhere Worth Mentioning (aka Jersey City) and you stuck with the mainline north. Just over the Passaic River in Kearny - this is the way someone from Delaware sees it - the Turnpike splits again but unlike the split in Newark which is permanent, the Kearny split is just temporary because the Turnpike comes back together again up near the Pallisades and before the George Washington Bridge.

You stay on one branch of the Turnpike, the eastern branch through Secaucus, the original one, or otherwise you take the western branch by the Meadowlands stadium (it probably has some temporary company name).

NJDOT calls them 95E and 95W or separate branches or routes of I-95 since you stay on I-95 whichever you take.

Guess what the Turnpike calls these two branches?


There are two real spurs on the New Jersey Turnpike:

- the Turnpike Extension heading off more or less east to the Holland Tunnel

- the Pearl Harbor Memorial Extension heading west to the Delaware River and the Pennsylvania Turnpike

Try winning the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes with New Jersey spurs

A spur in normal English usage is a protruding point attached to the main body at one end only as in the point of a spur on the heel of the boot of a horse rider. Or a railway spur track which is defined as: "short branch track leading from the main track, and connected with it at one end only."

The misnamed East and West Spurs of the NJ Turnpike are more sensibly described as split routes or arteries. Arteries - as in the carotid artery - they split and rejoin.

Planners conceit

Sequential interchange numbering demonstrates the supreme conceit of the planning mentality, the notion that we can foresee future needs. Roads are evolving things and when they are first built no one can anticipate, for example, how many interchanges there will be. And you aren't going to renumber all the interchanges each time you add an intermediate interchange.

After the NJ Turnpike was open and established they built new interchanges between Exit 7 and Exit 8 for I-195 to Trenton and the Jersey Shore - hence Exit 7A - and Exit 8A between Exits 8 and 9 for the South Brunswick area, and for Newark Airport/Port Exit 13A.

Letter suffix can also indicate interchanges on spurs such as 6A on the Pearl Harbor Extension, as well as the 14A, 14B and 14C of the Jersey City Spur.

But on the split routed northern portion suffix E indicates eastern and W western so there is 15E and 15W, 16E and 16W, a 17, an 18W, and the final barrier toll plaza, not really an interchange at all but Exit 18. Like Exit 1 at the southern end.

Some of the Exits are amazingly circuitous because of the need to build huge toll plazas in the days when cash was king. (see proposal for an Exit 2A to allow a direct link between the Turnpike and the Atlantic City Expressway and the move of Exit 8 in satellite pictures nearby)

Recently inserted between Exits 15E and 16E is a new Secaucus interchange, a beautiful piece of engineering (see nearby) that was supposed to allow motorists to transfer to trains at a new train station alongside the Turnpike. But it is so little used it is the butt of many jibes - the Exit to Nowhere etc.

By the logic of their existing numbering it would have been 15AE.

They called it 15X. Sounds kinda risque?

No that would have been 15XXX.

So maybe that X is for experimental? As in eXperimental Exit.

CONFESSION: Joseph P Barnes PE of Delaware, the Turnpike's planner of Exit Numbering is pure fabrication. 

TOLLROADSnews 2007-12-14

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