Veronique Hakim's daughter better qualified than Mom to run the New Jersey Turnpike? COMMENT

May 7, 2012

Veronique 'Ronnie' Hakim makes a good speech. Chief executive of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority she was a fine lunch speaker on the final day of the IBTTA conference last week in Jersey City. She's a commanding personality - fluent, witty, confident, and obviously smart.

I was impressed for about an hour or so. After her talk I had to get back home and I drove her Turnpike south to Maryland.

She doesn't drive her own road enough, I thought.

She'd talked safety at lunch, about the personal tragedies of people killed in accidents and how she emphasizes to everyone that they should focus, all the time on safety, and how she's on at everyone about the need to give safety priority, and to become advocates - not nags you hope - of safe practices.

That's all fine except she's just plain wrong in her advocacy, I thought, as I drove south on the Turnpike.

1. The need to "adhere strictly to posted speed limits"

The Turnpike's posted speed limits are absurd, dangerously so to the extent they are enforced. Only the very odd car was driving within the posted 65mph last Tuesday 2pm to 3.30pm southbound between the entry from Newark Airport (13A) and the Delaware River. (A reader points out the speed limit is even lower Exit 12 to 13A and is 65mph only south of Exit 12.)

The Turnpike was flowing nicely but it was sufficiently densely trafficked that to drive faster than the general traffic you'd need to do a lot of snakish lane changing - which I didn't do. I'm a boring, average driver. I go with the flow of the traffic, about the same number of vehicles passing me, as I pass.

I drove between 77mph and about 83mph most of the way.  There was little disparity in speeds, little passing, and rather little lane changing except to get by the odd slow driver (abiding by the posted speed.)

The safe speed was generally around 80mph.

The only time there was a hint of danger on the trip south on the mainline of the Turnpike was when an SUV ahead of me braked very hard and people behind had to suddenly brake too.  

A good thing no one was distracted then.

Reason for the SUV's sudden breaking? - a NJ Police cruiser lurking at the top of an interchange ramp was spotted by the SUV driver.

Thanks guys.

You provided a reminder of how the very effort to enforce an absurdly low speed limit creates an unnecessary hazard. And does nothing to slow average speeds either, because as soon as we were by that interchange everyone quickly went back to the safe and normal cruising speed of 80mph.

At least for the hundred miles between the Delaware River and about Exit 13 the Jersey Turnpike has to be one of the straightest and flattest highways in the country with excellent sight lines. It has well marked, well designed interchanges, and it is very well maintained. It is perfectly safe at the speeds the vast majority of drivers drive it - at 80mph or so in free flow conditions and in good weather.

2. Construction speeds

Now the Turnpike has a great widening project under way between Exits 6 and 8A - an extension of the northern 'dual/dual' format so-called with four roadways of three lanes each that makes the New Jersey Turnpike America's greatest highway to drive. The inner roadways are truck-free and their right side ramps over the outer roadways make for smooth entries and exits and minimize lane changes or weaving movements.

But during the construction there's a huge amount of rebuild. In fact almost every overpass structure seems to be being replaced to make way for the outer roads and to give space for more shoulder.

At a couple of points along the route where they'd placed concrete barrier close to the travel lane edge there were reduced speed limits (I think I saw 55mph and 60.) There traffic did slow, and sensibly - but again nowhere down near the posted speed.

Drivers went down from 80 to about 70mph.

Hakim in her IBTTA lunch talk told an amusing story about how she's instructed her daughter - in college at the University of Maryland - that in making trips home to Joisey she must take special care to abide by the posted speeds through the construction zones of the Turnpike, where she said there were limits of 45mph posted.

I didn't see any signage that ridiculous, but I loved the CEO's account of her daughter's reaction given the dire danger of being rear-ended at such a speed: "Mom are you trying to get me killed?"

Daughter Hakim actually drives on the Turnpike, whereas unfortunately her CEO Mom only pontificates on it - editor.

on the widening:

TOLLROADSnews 2012-05-07

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