This 1999 photo shows the westbound I-280 at EXIT 12 (Garden State Parkway) in East Orange. The depressed roadway alternative resulted from intense community opposition to the original elevated highway alternative. The bridges over I-280 were constructed several years before the roadway was completed. Space was left at this interchange for the unbuilt NJ 75 Freeway. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

AN EARLY EXPRESSWAY TO THE STICKEL BRIDGE: Interstate 280, originally known as the Essex Freeway, had its beginnings as NJ 25A, a 1.1-mile-long highway connecting Clifton Avenue in downtown Newark with Grant Avenue in Harrison. In 1949, the William J. Stickel Memorial Bridge, a four-lane span carrying NJ 25A over the Passaic River, was opened to traffic. Named after a one-time Essex County engineer, the 125-foot-long vertical span has a vertical clearance of 35 feet over mean high water.

The same year that the Stickel Bridge opened, the New Jersey State Highway Department proposed the Essex Freeway, an east-west road stretching from the proposed New Jersey Turnpike in Hudson County to US 46 in Morris County. In 1954, one year after the highway was re-christened NJ 58, an approach stretching one-half to the west of the lift span was opened to traffic. These initial sections of NJ 58 formed part of the new Essex Freeway, which was to continue west through Newark into the area of Parsippany. Most of the new route was to parallel NJ 10, a congested, two-lane radial route.

EARLY PLANNING FOR I-280: In the mid-1950's, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) selected the NJ 3 corridor between the Lincoln Tunnel and I-80 (Bergen-Passaic Expressway) for preliminary eligibility under the Federal Interstate system (as "FAI 105"). The New Jersey State Highway Department replied that the NJ 3 corridor "does not meet Interstate standards, and cannot be economically converted to such standards."

Instead, the state offered the Essex Freeway and Hoboken Freeway corridors for eligibility under the Interstate highway system, adding that the two corridors would better serve commerce and industry in the Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken areas. However, there was some speculation that politicians in Essex County, which comprised the second largest delegation in Trenton, successfully influenced officials to realign the proposed Interstate highway to fit almost entirely inside the county.

In 1957, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) authorized construction of the $157 million Essex Freeway between the Bergen-Passaic Expressway (I-80) in Parsippany and the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) in Kearny. (The Hoboken Freeway corridor did not receive Interstate funding.)  One year later, the Essex Freeway received a new designation: I-280.

Despite the new Interstate designation - and the promise of Federal funding - construction of I-280 was delayed for years. In 1967, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) stated the case for completing I-280 as follows:

Interstate 280 will provide an expressway to rapidly developing eastern Morris County through the densely populated areas of the Oranges and Newark in Essex County, and heavily industrialized Harrison and Kearny in Hudson County. The freeway will extend from parent I-80 in Parsippany-Troy Hills Township, Morris County to I-95 (New Jersey Turnpike) in Kearny.

DEPRESSED OR ELEVATED? The original plans for I-280 called for an elevated roadway through Newark and East Orange. Community opposition to the elevated roadway proposal led to the adoption of an alternative routing that would swing run from the Stickel Bridge, continue west between Orange Street and Sussex Avenue, and rejoin the original routing along the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad (now New Jersey Transit). This alternative allowed for I-280 to be constructed as a partially depressed roadway through Newark and East Orange.

TUNNEL OR DEEP CUT THROUGH FIRST MOUNTAIN? In West Orange, one alternative advanced by mayor James J. Sheeran called for the construction of a tunnel through First Mountain. The I-280 tunnel proposal would have cost $24 million, twice the cost of constructing a deep cut over a slightly longer, "S"-shaped route near the Edison National Historic Site. The New Jersey State Highway Department decided ultimately to construct the longer, less costly route.

To hold down construction costs, the state commissioned the engineering firm S.J. Groves and Sons to construct a temporary railroad along the I-280 right-of-way. Engineers first cut through First Mountain, and had approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of rock ready to haul to a replacement fill toward the western end of I-280, where a separate section was being graded over unstable land. However, after determining that the gravel on the completed section of roadbed was too hard on oversized truck tires (not to mention the grades that the trucks had to negotiate), engineers decided to construct a temporary railroad to haul the rock fill west along the route of I-280. The temporary railroad stretched approximately seven miles from West Orange to the I-80 interchange in Parsippany.

CONSTRUCTION TIMELINE: In 1960, construction of I-280 began in the Orange-West Orange area. Between 1966 and 1973, 14.5 miles of the route from Parsippany east to Harrison were opened to traffic, leaving 3.4 miles of I-280 remaining unbuilt. In Newark, an unfinished interchange - EXIT 13 - was constructed to accommodate the unbuilt NJ 75 (Newark Midtown) Freeway.

In 1967, the NJDOT presented two alternative I-280 corridors through Harrison. The "blue" corridor through Harrison was shorter, but would have displaced 650 families. The longer "red" corridor would have been less disruptive, displacing 100 families. Much of this route was to be built on an embankment along utility and railroad lines, lowering the cost of the 3.4-mile section to $16.3 million.

The I-280 connection between the Stickel Bridge and the New Jersey Turnpike opened in 1980. In conjunction with this project, the NJDOT installed a median barrier on the Stickel Bridge.

This 1999 photo shows the westbound I-280 approaching EXIT 7 (Pleasant Valley Way) in West Orange. During the design stage in the late 1950's, state highway officials decided upon a longer, less costly route for I-280 rather than constructing a vehicular land tunnel through First Mountain. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

ROADWAY LAYOUT AND TRAFFIC COUNTS: The different sections along I-280 are described as follows:

  • I-280 has four lanes from I-80 in Parsippany-Troy Hills Township to EXIT 4 (Eisenhower Parkway) in Livingston. The speed limit along this section, which carries approximately 65,000 vehicles per day (AADT), is 65 MPH.

  • Continuing east, I-280 has six to eight lanes from EXIT 4 to EXIT 12 (Garden State Parkway-Harrison Street-Clinton Street) in East Orange. Truck climbing lanes are provided for the six percent grades through the hills of West Orange. The speed limit along this section, which carries approximately 90,000 vehicles per day (AADT), is 65 MPH from EXIT 4 east to EXIT 7 (Pleasant Valley Way), and 55 MPH from EXIT 7 east to EXIT 12.

  • Between EXIT 12 and EXIT 15 (NJ 21), I-280 continues east through congested areas of Newark as four-lane depressed roadway. This section, which was part of the original NJ 58, experiences chronic congestion due to its substandard design and limited width. The speed limit along this older section of I-280 is 50 MPH. Approximately 100,000 vehicles travel this section each day.

  • The six-lane Stickel Bridge has four through-traffic lanes and two lanes for traffic entering and exiting NJ 21 at EXIT 15 just west of the bridge. The speed limit across the bridge is 40 MPH.

  • East of the Stickel Bridge in Harrison, the newest section of I-280 continues east to the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) in Kearny as a six-lane freeway. The speed limit on this section is 50 MPH. Approximately 60,000 vehicles travel this section each day.

STICKLE BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN: Some years ago, the NJDOT considered replacing the existing four-lane Stickel Bridge with a six-lane vertical lift bridge. The I-280 proposal was part of a never-implemented NJDOT master plan to rebuild the New Jersey Transit-Broad Street Station and provide a separate new vertical lift span for the old Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western (DL&W) Railroad swing bridge.

In mid-1998, officials from the NJDOT asked the U.S. Coast Guard to change the operating rules for the Stickel Bridge. The NJDOT proposal would close the bridge permanently to navigation, which allows for closure of a moveable bridge due to infrequent use.

The April 2001 release of a NJDOT report labeling the Stickel Bridge "structurally deficient and functionally obsolete" has prompted officials to consider options to either rehabilitate or replace the bridge. Inspectors found both the superstructure and substructure of the old span to be in "poor" condition, the result of wall cracks and severe corrosion of structural steel. Furthermore, the steel-grated roadway, narrow lanes and tight ramps leading to the local streets have contributed to the bridge's high accident rate. As an interim measure, the NJDOT has reduced the speed limit on the bridge to 40 MPH.

The need to replace the bridge and approach roadways took on greater significance during three incidents during 2001. First, chunks of concrete from the elevated I-280 fell down onto the intersection of State Street and University Avenue in downtown Newark. The addition of new concrete supports between the bridge and EXIT 15 (NJ 21) may have weakened other parts of the road in the area, causing what the NJDOT called "a hole in the deck." Second, an expansion joint fell out from the main deck of the Stickle Bridge into the Passaic River. More recently, a small section of the bridge deck itself fell into the Passaic River.

During the "conceptual development" phase, the NJDOT proposed the following alternatives for either rehabilitating or replacing the span, and upgrading the approach roadways:

  • Under the "rehabilitation" option, the existing Stickel Bridge would receive a simple rehabilitation.

  • Under the "rehabilitation plus" option, the existing Stickel Bridge would be rehabilitated and restored for one-way traffic. A new parallel span would built for opposing one-way trafic.

  • Under the "replacement" option, the existing lift bridge would be replaced with a wider, high-level fixed span. However, the building of a new Stickel Bridge and its approaches would have affected condominiums and row houses in Harrison, and the Plume House in Newark, a stone church building dating back to the early 1700's. Construction of this alternative would have cost $300 million, and would not have been completed until 2014.

In early 2005, the NJDOT decided on the "rehabilitation" option under the state's "hyperbuild" initiative designed to cut costs and save construction time. Construction of the $42 million project is expected to continue through 2007.

These 2002 photos show the Stickel Bridge over the Passaic River. Built in 1949, the four-lane bridge is structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. The NJDOT dropped plans to replace the span, and instead plans rehabilitate the bridge by late 2007. (Photos by Jim K. Georges.)

OTHER IMPROVEMENTS ON I-280: In 2000, the NJDOT completed a long-delayed reconstruction project at EXIT 1 (Morris CR 632 / New Road). Previously a partial interchange diamond interchange, the rebuilt EXIT 1 received a new eastbound off-ramp and a new westbound on-ramp. In addition, the existing westbound off-ramp and eastbound on-ramp were replaced with new ramps.

In 2006, the NJDOT replaced the eastbound bridge over the Morristown-Erie Railroad just east of EXIT 4 (Essex CR 609 / Eisenhower Parkway). The $4 million project took only three weeks using a "hyperbuild" design strategy. The project contractors built the deck panels off-site and transported them to the bridge to install. A more traditional strategy of building the deck on-site would have taken up to nine months to complete.

At EXIT 13 (Garden State Parkway), the NJDOT extended and widened the ramps between the parkway and I-280 from one lane to two lanes, and built new EZ-Pass lanes at the interchange toll plaza. The $11 million project, which was undertaken in cooperation with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, was completed in 2007, three years earlier than originally forecast.

The NJDOT rehabilitated the pavement along both directions of the freeway from EXIT 6 (Essex CR 634 / Laurel Avenue) in Roseland east to EXIT 13 (First Street) in Newark. The $15 million project was completed in 2008.

The state has planned the following additional improvements to I-280:

  • The NJDOT plans to build a new ramp and bridge over the NJ Transit right-of-way to the eastbound I-280 at the east end of Harrison. It also plans to repave the main roadways and improve sewers along I-280 from EXIT 16 (Hudson CR 697 / Fourth Street) in Harrison east to EXIT 17 (Hudson CR 508 / Newark-Jersey City Turnpike) in Kearny. The $30 million project is scheduled for completion in 2009.

  • Construction of a "Downtown (University Heights) Connector" from I-280 (at EXIT 13) to downtown Newark along First Street. (The connector would use the ramps that were to be used for the unbuilt NJ 75 Freeway.) No dates have been set for construction.

This 2005 photo shows the westbound I-280 just west of the Stickel Bridge. The four-lane section of I-280 shown here was built during the early 1950's as NJ 58. Shown on the left is the NJ Transit-Broad Street Station. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

I-280 EAST TO THE HOLLAND TUNNEL? The original 1957 proposal for I-280 submitted by the New Jersey State Highway Department included an extension east of I-95 to the Holland Tunnel approach (I-78) in Jersey City. This route, which was to parallel NJ 7 (Newark Pike) and Hudson CR 508 (Harrison Avenue) through Kearny and Jersey City, was to run through the ecologically sensitive New Jersey Meadowlands, near the confluence of the Hackensack and Passaic rivers.

In 1966, the Tri-State Transportation Commission recommended an extension of I-280 east to the Holland Tunnel. The commission advanced the proposal to relieve congestion on existing arterials such as the Pulaski Skyway (US 1-US 9) and NJ 7, as well as to spur development of the Meadowlands.

Nearly a decade later, the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission (successor to the Tri-State Transportation Commission) revived the I-280 extension as a "future proposal" that was scheduled for completion by 2000. Although this plan was never implemented, the Commission's recommendation was as follows:

Along the NJ 7 corridor, studies of extending I-280 from the New Jersey Turnpike east to US 1-US 9 (or to the Holland Tunnel) should be undertaken.

The NJDOT should pursue the replacement option for the Stickel Bridge, in conjunction with improved approaches between I-280 and an extended NJ 21 Freeway (re-designated I-480) in Newark.

SOURCES: "Report on East-West and Route 10 Freeways and Connections," New Jersey State Highway Department (1948), "FAI 105 Interstate Highway Corridor: Recommendation Report," New Jersey State Highway Department (1957); "New Roads with New Numbers Will Parallel Old U.S. Routes" by George Cable Wright, The New York Times (9/19/1958); "Depressed Road Backed in Essex" by Milton Honig, The New York Times (4/01/1959); "Public Hearing on the Depression of Essex Freeway," New Jersey State Assembly (3/29/1961); "Newark Transportation Study," New Jersey State Highway Department (1961); Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1966); "Interstate Route 280: Stickel Bridge to I-95," New Jersey Department of Transportation (1967); New Jersey Highway Facts, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1967); Maintaining Mobility, Tri-State Regional Planning Commission (1975); "S.J. Groves and Sons," Extra 2200 South (November 2000); "State Looks To Fix the Stickel" by Guy Sterling, The Star-Ledger (4/20/2001); "Elevated Route 280 Section Drops Chunks on Newark" by Guy Sterling, The Star-Ledger (5/02/2001); "DiFrancesco Backs Plan To Expand 65 MPH Speed Limit," The Associated Press (8/15/2001); "Parkway Upgrades Traveling in Fast Lane" by Daniel Sforza, The Bergen Record (12/19/2004); "State Scales Back Plans for Bridge" by Joe Malinconico, The Star-Ledger (3/17/2005); North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority; Chris Blaney; Frank Curcio; Yuri Dieujuste; Hank Eisenstein; Bill Guimes; Tim Hester; Michael G. Koerner; George Kowal; Arthur Malkin; Raymond C. Martin; Christopher G. Mason; Dan Moraseski; Scott Oglesby; William F. Yurasko.

  • I-280 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

INTERSTATE 280 LINKS:

INTERSTATE 280 CURRENT CONDITIONS:

OFF-SITE EXIT LISTINGS:

  • I-280 (New Jersey) exit list by Ray Martin.

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