Fiery crash at Bergen Toll Plaza on Garden State Parkway - memories of Stratford CT 1983

July 16, 2012

The good news was that no one was seriously hurt despite the wild fire to be seen in pictures nearby after an out-of-control Toyota Prius ran up a rampart between two toll lanes at the Bergen mainline toll plaza on the Garden State Parkway. The toll plaza takes tolls northbound and the spectacular accident happened 3:45pm Friday July 13 just as the afternoon rush hour was beginning.

The Prius and a Honda Accord had sideswiped one another in the approach to the toll plaza, apparently causing the Prius to lose control. The Prius ended up with its back wheels right up on the toll booth crash block, its front mangled.

Two toll booths were badly burned in the fire and three toll lanes were closed for several hours - three out of 12 total at the plaza.

Pictures show the fire badly damaged Lane 6 an Exact Change or coin machine lane which is unstaffed, and staffed Lane 7 which accepts cash as well as allowing E-ZPass through.

Huge traffic backups developed but the Turnpike Authority (which manages the Parkway as well as the Turnpike proper) lessened the pain for motorists by suspending toll collection for the evening.

Spokesman Tom Feeney was quoted as saying they decided to "give priority" to moving traffic, so tolls were suspended in all toll lanes - a basic car toll of $1.50 tolls - for 5 hours.

By 9pm after the traffic had cleared they resumed normal operations.

Connecticut 1983

The spectacular Bergen fire revived memories among older toll people of a much sadder fire that occurred at the Stratford toll plaza in Connecticut January 19 1983 when a tractor-trailer, apparently with defective brakes, careened into several cars breaking some into pieces with the force of the crash and engulfing the wreckage in flames.

The vehicles were traveling eastbound.

Six people were killed outright, and several injured, some very seriously - according to the New York Times Jan 20 1983. A seventh person died later from burns.

The crash plus a bridge collapse so discredited the Connecticut Turnpike the state government moved to abolish the Turnpike and dismantle the toll plazas. State gasoline taxes were increased to make up for toll revenues.  Toll collection ended Dec 31 1985.

Several young boys were orphaned by the crash.

88 miles of the Turnpike was I-95, and 40 miles was I-395. The Turnpike went the length of the state east-west from the New York state border to the Rhode Island line.

Now a quarter century later there is a state DOT study under way of reintroducing tolls - but collected all-electronic - to fund needed modernization of the route.


The New Jersey Turnpike has been slow to move to open road and all-electronic tolling. 

On the New Jersey Turnpike there is open road tolling only on the extremities, most lightly trafficked interchanges - the IC1 mainline plaza at the far southern end in 4 travel lanes, IC6 on the western extension, and at the northern end of the western branch IC18W (this is a busy interchange.) The many side interchanges in between remain unchanged from the days before electronic tolling.

The same is true on the Garden State Parkway where open road tolling on the leftside was done many years ago now at the busy Pascack Valley toll plaza and also at five plazas on the southern end (Raritan, Asbury, Toms River, Barnegat and Cape May) seven years ago little has been done since then to modernize either pike's toll collection. A whole slew of toll plazas remain pre-electronic tolling in their geometry. (CORRECTED)


Veronique Hakim,

CEO New Jersey Turnpike Authority

Woodbridge NJ

Ms Hakim: you spoke very eloquently at the final lunch of IBTTA in Jersey City a few weeks ago about the need to focus on safety and to reduce deaths and injuries on your roads. You are a great public speaker. I was impressed... at least for about an hour, anyway. Until I was reminded of the hazards of your Turnpike.

I left right after the you spoke and drove home on your Turnpike from Newark to its end at the Delaware Memorial Bridge. My assessment of your commitment to safety took a nose dive.

Entering the Turnpike at IC13A in Newark is a terrible mess of which you should be ashamed - a relic of an earlier era of traffic engineering. The roadway inbound goes from 9 lanes through the entry toll plaza to three lanes in just 500ft, and then in quick succession the motorist has three ramps to choose - the far right lane for southbound local lanes, the middle for southbound express lanes, the right for northbound local lanes.

This may have worked tolerably before electronic tolling when everyone had to stop. But now four out of five drivers have E-ZPass and they zip through the E-ZPass Only lanes of the old toll plaza at anywhere between 20mph and 50mph, and run immediately into that abrupt 8 lane to 3 lane merge and the 3 ramps choice. It's a wild scene of abrupt cut-ins and lane changes - quite tense driving to navigate safely.

Many of the Turnpike's old side plazas are like that. It's time you redesigned them for modern tolling which doesn't stop anyone to collect cash and allows ramps to be designed to get motorists on and off the turnpike smoothly.

The only other incident of note was on the far southern section of the Turnpike when a car in front of me suddenly hit their brakes, forcing me to hit mine too, and causing a concertina effect back down the line of cars. We were all cruising along at 72 or 73mph, a perfectly safe speed, but apparently above the posted speed limit.

The hard braking was when the driver ahead spotted a cop car with a speed camera.

The low speed limit you post (65mph?) must be a major source of erratic driving and potentially of crashes. That's not safety. It's just dumb.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-07-15

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