The safe and efficient N.J. Turnpike hits 50

January 11, 2000

This is an edited excerpt of an editorial from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was published yesterday.

ALASKA has Mount McKinley. Arizona has the Grand Canyon. Utah has the Great Salt Lake. New Jersey has -- The Turnpike.

Identification with a roadway isn't necessarily bad. Consider California's Highway 1, Virginia's Skyline Drive or Montana's Going-to-the-Sun Road. Unfortunately, the New Jersey Turnpike conjures images of belching smokestacks, not misted mountains or crashing surf. To the dismay of most New Jerseyans, it's the turnpike -- rather than sandy beaches, Cape May Victorians, cedar lakes, scrub pines, acres of orchards, green rolling hills, or the dramatic Delaware Water Gap -- that defines the state for most Americans. No one who has ever traveled it can forget it.

New Jersey, stow that dour attitude and be proud. Fifty years ago this month, the Turnpike Authority broke ground on land nobody wanted and turned it into the most traveled highway in the country -- maybe in the world. It's safe; it's efficient; it's essential. Imagine traversing the northeast corridor without it.

In their book, "Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike," Rutgers professors Angus Kress Gillespie and Michael Aaron Rockland argue that the turnpike is an American icon. By the late '40s, a north-south superhighway had been in the planning stages for years, but there was no public money for it. Then, Republican Gov. Alfred E. Driscoll hatched a plan: An independent authority would issue bonds and charge tolls to pay them off.

The civil engineers stayed true to their mandate: They built the road quickly, cheaply and safely. A landscape architect was never even consulted. "The roadway was utterly straight and boring and bleak, but it was somehow magnificent," the professors write.

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