This 1999 photo shows the beginning of eastbound I-278 at the NJ 439 junction. The wide grassy embankment on the left was to have been used for the westward extension of I-278 toward I-78 in Springfield. (Photo by Raymond C. Martin.)
CONNECTING TO THE GOETHALS BRIDGE: The New Jersey section of Interstate 278, originally known as the Union Freeway, was first proposed in 1955 as an urban connecting route in the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. This six-lane freeway, which was to connect I-78 with the Goethals Bridge, was to provide a relocation of the existing NJ 28. In 1958, the Union Freeway received the I-278 designation.
In the late 1960's, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and the Tri-State Transportation Commission recommended construction of I-278 as follows:
Interstate 278 is a belt highway designed to relieve I-78 of traffic bound for the Union County communities, Linden, Elizabeth and New York City. It branches southward from I-78 in Springfield Township, crosses the Goethals Bridge into Staten Island and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn, then extends northeast to I-95 in the Bronx. This east-west route is an important link in the southerly bypass of Newark and Manhattan.
Due to substantial opposition in Union County, a request has been submitted to the Federal government to reallocate funds assigned to construction of I-278 between Springfield and US 1-US 9 in Elizabeth to the construction of the Central Jersey Expressway.
In 1965, work began on a 1.3-mile section of the Union Freeway from the Goethals Bridge approach and the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) in Elizabeth, west to US 1-US 9 in Linden. In addition to providing access to I-95, US 1 and US 9, the short expressway also provides access to NJ 439 (Bayway Avenue). This section of I-278, which cost $11.5 million to construct, was completed in 1969.
The interchange between I-278 and the New Jersey Turnpike has four ghost ramps that were to be used for the eastern terminus of the NJ 81 Freeway. The ramps, which are to and from the turnpike toll plaza, and to and from the Goethals Bridge, would have formed part of a "3Y" layout. Plans developed later had traffic bound for the Goethals Bridge utilize the New Jersey Turnpike via a truncated NJ 81 Freeway. (This short freeway connects to the turnpike at EXIT 13Anear Newark Airport.)
This 1999 photo shows the westbound I-278 at the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95), just west of the Goethals Bridge. (Photo by Raymond C. Martin.)
EXTENDING I-278 TO I-78: The original plans for I-278 in New Jersey called for an additional 7.7 miles of freeway from US 1-US 9 in Linden northwest to I-78 at EXIT 49 (NJ 124 / Springfield Avenue) in Springfield. An elaborate interchange at EXIT 49, complete with a wide grassy space between the westbound local and express lanes, hints at aborted plans for an I-78 / I-278 / NJ 124 interchange. The proposed I-278 was to have crossed Garden State Parkway in Kenilworth at the Michigan Avenue overpass (just south of EXIT 138) and US 22 in Union near Country Club Drive.
Although the proposed routing of the I-278 extension along an abandoned railroad right-of-way was thought to mitigate community concerns, heavy development along either side of the right-of-way in Roselle Park, Kenilworth and Union Township only aggravated these concerns. The freeway would have sliced through Warinanco Park and Rahway River Park, further stoking local opposition.
In 1967, state officials proposed that the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) drop from the Interstate highway system the previously authorized Union Freeway Extension, and substitute the Central Jersey Expressway (I-195) in its place. The estimated $100 million cost for the I-278 extension was attributed to condemnation and construction outlays. In contrast, the proposed I-195 was estimated to cost $60 million. Although I-195 was to be 34.6 miles long - longer than the I-278 extension - its route through more sparsely populated areas was less costly to rebuild.
The westward extension of I-278 continued to appear on maps through the mid-1970's, but by then, the project already had been killed. George Kowal, New Jersey contributor to nycroads.com, posted the following in the misc.transport.road newsgroup:
I remember that an entire interchange was built, then demolished and later rebuilt after I-278 was canceled!
AND BEYOND TO I-287? Some maps published by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) placed the I-278 designation along the NJ 24 Freeway west to I-287 in Morristown. In 1970, the state of New Jersey submitted a proposal to revive I-278 between US 1 and I-78, and extend the I-278 designation along NJ 24, in the hope of getting 90 percent Federal funds to finish the freeway.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rejected the proposal. If it had been approved, the I-278 designation would have continued for one mile on the I-78 local lanes between the current EXIT 49 (where I-278 was to join I-78) and EXIT 48 (the NJ 24 Freeway alignment).
CONTROVERSY REVIVED ALONG THE CORRIDOR: Since 2002, officials of the Morristown-based Morristown and Erie Railroad have discussed plans to reactivate the Staten Island and Rahway Valley Railroad right-of-way that was to be used for the unbuilt I-278. The freight rail line was abandoned during the mid-1980's.
The reactivated rail line would serve the massive Conoco Phillips refinery in Linden and reactivated Staten Island Rapid Transit freight line (through which it would serve the Howland Hook Marine Terminal). It also would connect to the Chemical Coast and former CNJ (now NJ Transit High Bridge) freight rail lines. This plan encountered opposition from residents along the rail line, where new homes were built since it was deactivated (and some of the tracks removed). However, county and state governments support reactivation.
More on the freight line from nycroads.com contributor Paul Payton:
The "Staten Island" part is a done deal. After a pause for legal maneuvers, trackwork again is being replaced and upgraded, and plans are in the works for a connector to the Chemical Coast Line as well as to the existing interchange with the former CNJ line in Cranford.
Not as certain is the reactivation of the Rahway Valley section. The right-of-way is being cleared through most of Union; but not much is being done through Kenilworth and Springfield (where the mayors are vigorously against reactivation). In addition, clearing work is being done on the looping part around the southeastern part of Summit.
This 1967 Union County master plan map shows the western terminus of I-278 in the vicinity of I-78 (then under construction) and NJ 124 (then part of NJ 24) in Springfield. According to the master plan, the I-278 / NJ 24 interchange then proposed did not provide for ramps to I-278 in the immediate area, but instead placed I-278 about one mile east along I-78. (Map from Rutgers University-Historical Maps of New Jersey collection, mapmaker.rutgers.edu.)
New ramps should be built to connect I-278 westbound with US 1-US 9 northbound, and to connect US 1-US 9 southbound with I-278 eastbound. These new ramps would alleviate congestion by removing through traffic on NJ 439 (Bayway Avenue) in Elizabeth.
SOURCES: "New Roads with New Numbers Will Parallel Old U.S. Routes" by George Cable Wright, The New York Times (9/19/1958); Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Arterial Progress 1959-1965, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1966); "Case To Propose More Superroads, Aiding Jersey" by Richard Witkin, The New York Times (8/23/1967); New Jersey Highway Facts, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1967); "Elizabeth Link to Goethals Bridge Set To Open," The New York Times (10/29/1969); "Report on the Status of the Federal-Aid Highway Program," Committee on Public Works, U.S. Senate (1970); "Residents Want Answers on Freight Rail Plan" by Jason Jett, The Star-Ledger (10/08/2002); Chris Blaney; Frank Curcio; Adam Froehlig; George Kowal; Arthur Malkin; Raymond C. Martin; Christopher G. Mason; Dan Moraseski; Scott Oglesby; Paul Payton.
I-278 and NJ 24 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.