This 2002 photo shows the westbound I-78 in its quad-carriageway configuration at EXIT 56 (Hillside Avenue) in Newark. This section opened during the mid-1970's after more than 15 years of delays. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

Length:
Constructed:

58.7 miles (94.7 kilometers)
1956-1989

LINKING THE HOLLAND TUNNEL WITH PENNSYLVANIA: In the mid-1950's, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority proposed an east-west spur of the New Jersey Turnpike that would link the Holland Tunnel with Pennsylvania. The signing of the National System of Defense and Interstate Highways Act by President Eisenhower in 1956 brought with it the promise of 90-10 Federal-state funding for freeways in New Jersey, and subsequently, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority abandoned its East-West Turnpike proposal.

In 1957, the New Jersey State Highway Department proposed the 59-mile-long "FAI Corridor 102," a toll-free Interstate highway linking the New Jersey Turnpike near Newark Airport with the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area of Pennsylvania. The freeway, known unofficially as the Phillipsburg-Newark Expressway, supplemented the existing US 22 arterial, and included the already opened expressway replacement sections of US 22. It received the preliminary designation of I-80N in late 1957, joining the I-80S designation (the original designation of the Pennsylvania Turnpike) near Harrisburg. In mid-1958, the freeway was re-designated Interstate 78, the main link between New York and the Harrisburg area.

The route of I-78, now the official name of the road, was described in
New Jersey Highway Facts, published in 1967 by the New Jersey Department of Transportation:

This freeway will provide an express highway for transcontinental traffic crossing the state from Easton-Phillipsburg to the Newark metropolitan area and the Holland Tunnel. It will divert cross-country traffic from US 22, permitting that primary highway to fulfill its design function as a land service road, and facilitate the flow of local and commuter traffic.

This 1965 photo shows the four-lane I-78 as it winds its way through rural western New Jersey. (Photo by New Jersey State Highway Department.)

EARLY RESISTANCE TO I-78: Construction of the first two stretches of Interstate 78 progressed with little resistance in western New Jersey. In contrast, the eastern stretches of I-78 were met with considerably more resistance. From Richard Tompkins, an administrator with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in New Jersey:

Initially, the availability of Federal funds, which account for 90 percent of the cost, was the main reason the project was not completed. If the money had been there, the road would have been completed as scheduled. But a lack of funds and new legislation eventually caught up with us.

Soon after I-78 was proposed in 1957, city officials in Newark fought for more than a decade to have the expressway routed around the city's Weequahic section. After an unsuccessful fight, the pro-highway forces won, and 469 homes and more than 100 businesses had to be demolished over a nine-block area to make way for I-78.

About ten miles to the west, residents in Springfield, Union Township and Hillside also fought unsuccessfully to stop sections of I-78 from running through their communities. These municipalities fought each other, and even neighborhood groups fought each other, to have the highway constructed anywhere but their neighborhood. By the late 1960s, these communities lost the battle to stop I-78.

Initially, the availability of Federal funds, which account for 90 percent of the cost, was the main reason the project was not completed. If the money had been there, the road would have been completed as scheduled. But a lack of funds and new legislation eventually caught up with us.

Soon after I-78 was proposed in 1957, city officials in Newark fought for more than a decade to have the expressway routed around the city's Weequahic section. After an unsuccessful fight, the pro-highway forces won, and 469 homes and more than 100 businesses had to be demolished over a nine-block area to make way for I-78. About ten miles to the west, residents in Springfield, Union Township and Hillside also fought unsuccessfully to stop sections of I-78 from running through their communities. These municipalities fought each other, and even neighborhood groups fought each other, to have the highway constructed anywhere but their neighborhood. By the late 1960s, these communities lost the battle to stop I-78.

These 2002 photos show the quad-carriageway I-78 just west of Newark. The quad-carriageway configuration continues west to EXIT 48 (NJ 24 Freeway) in Springfield. (Photos by Jim K. Georges.)

THE WAR AT WATCHUNG: In 1965, the New Jersey State Highway Department planned the route of I-78 to go through Watchung Reservation, a natural reserve owned by Union County. Before the first bulldozers could clear land for the project, new Federal legislation that became effective on January 1, 1970 mandated lengthy, expensive environmental studies and halted construction.

In the next dozen years, the FHWA and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) spent $2 million just on studies to find alternatives to putting I-78 through the reservation. During this time, Union County officials and environmental groups pressured the state and Federal governments to either reroute the freeway, or make concessions to them to forgo their opposition.

In October 1982, Governor Thomas Kean approved the final construction plan for this missing five-mile link of I-78. The final plan had I-78 running through 3.5 miles of the Watchung Reservation, requiring the acquisition of 66 acres from Union County. In return for ending its opposition to I-78, the state gave Union County 70 acres of nearby state-owned land, plus $3.6 million for construction of new equestrian facilities and a Boy Scout camp.

This five-mile section between Scotch Plains and Springfield, which consists of six lanes throughout its entire length, was completed in August 1986 at a cost of $110 million. To mollify concerns of environmentalists and local residents, engineers designed the freeway to blend in with the topography. Three cut-and-cover sections at Nikesite Road, W.R. Tracy Drive and Glenside Avenue provide for continuous park use by both Watchung Reservation visitors and resident wildlife. Split-level roadways, brown signposts and lightposts, natural and artificial sound barriers, and catch basins for runoff are some additional features of the section through Watchung Reservation. (Years later, however, the NJDOT paid to remove sedimentation from the bottom of Lake Surprise that occurred during construction of I-78.)

THE LAST SECTION OF I-78: In 1968, residents of Warren County successfully fought NJDOT plans for routing I-78 through downtown Phillipsburg, near the existing US 22 alignment. Furthermore, concerns were raised about the safety of US 22 (Lehigh Valley Thruway) in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area. The Lehigh Valley Thruway, which had also been designated I-78 at the time, is a pre-Interstate era limited-access highway.

In 1969, the NJDOT and the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (the predecessor to PennDOT) decided on a new alignment that would begin at EXIT 15 in Lehigh County west of Allentown. It was to continue east along the southern edge of the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area, and south of the existing US 22 alignment. A new toll bridge was to be constructed over the Delaware River for the new I-78 alignment. In New Jersey, I-78 would continue east to EXIT 3 (US 22), avoiding downtown Phillipsburg. The toll bridge and its approaches would be constructed and operated by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

Construction of this final segment of I-78, which began in 1984, was completed in November 1989. The entire 59-mile-length of the Interstate 78 through New Jersey was completed at a cost of more than $500 million.

This 2002 photo shows one of the wildlife overpasses along I-78 through the Watchung Reservation in Union County. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

ROADWAY DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: The design of I-78 reflected contemporary Interstate-standard design. Between the Delaware River and the New Jersey Turnpike, I-78 features 12-foot-wide lanes, 12-foot-wide paved shoulders, 1200-foot-long acceleration and deceleration lanes, wide medians, and a 70 MPH speed limit. Design capacities were established at 60,000 vehicles per day (AADT) on the six-lane section in western New Jersey, and at 120,000 vehicles per day (AADT) on the 12-lane section near Newark.

Between 1956 and 1989, construction of I-78 progressed across New Jersey as follows:

  • Delaware River toll bridge to EXIT 3 (US 22) in Phillipsburg: Original six-lane section opened in 1989. This section was financed and built by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, and is maintained by this agency. The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 3 to EXIT 6 (Asbury-Bloomsbury Road) in Bloomsbury: Original four-lane section opened in 1959, widened to six lanes in 1968. Bridges were constructed in to accommodate the later widening. When this section opened, a barrier was thrown up across the main roadway at the exit ramp. (Although this section was completed to near EXIT 7, it was not open to traffic.) The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 6 to EXIT 11 (Hunterdon CR 614) in Pattenburg: Original four-lane section opened in 1962, widened to six lanes in 1968. Bridges were constructed to accommodate the later widening. The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 11 to EXIT 13 (NJ 173) in Perryville: The original four-lane, dual-carriageway route opened in 1953 as part of NJ 28 and US 22. By 1959, this section took on the new I-78 designation. (The NJ 28 designation disappeared along this section.) In 1968, I-78 was realigned along this stretch. A new three-lane carriageway was constructed to accommodate the eastbound lanes of I-78. Meanwhile, the eastbound lanes of US 22 became the westbound lanes of I-78. One bridge was replaced to accommodate the widening of the westbound I-78 carriageway to three lanes. When this construction was completed, the US 22 designation was shifted over to I-78, while the former westbound lanes of US 22 became the bi-directional service road paralleling the north side of I-78. (Note that what is now designated NJ 173 for its entire length was at one time a section of US 22.) The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 13 to EXIT 16 (NJ 31) in Clinton: Original four lanes opened (as the US 22 Clinton Bypass) in 1957, widened to six lanes in 1968. Bridges were constructed to accommodate the later widening. The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 16 to EXIT 30 (I-287) in Bedminster: Original six lanes opened in stages between 1966 and 1968. The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 30 to EXIT 41 (Drift Road-Dale Road) in Plainfield: Original six lanes opened in stages in 1970 and 1971. The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 41 to EXIT 48 (NJ 24 Freeway) in Springfield: Original six lanes opened in 1986. The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH.

  • EXIT 48 to EXIT 59 (I-95 / New Jersey Turnpike) in Newark: Original 10-to-12 lanes (five-to-six lanes eastbound and westbound, dual-dual configuration separating local and express lanes) opened between 1974 and 1977. The speed limit on this section is 65 MPH, except for the local lanes in the area of Newark Airport (where the speed limit is still 55 MPH.)

This 2003 photo shows the westbound I-78 approaching EXIT 29 (I-287) in Pluckermin Township, Somerset County. (Photo by Douglas Kerr, www.gribblenation.com.)

FIRE CLOSES I-78, FORCES DETOURS: In the early morning hours of August 7, 1989, a multiple-alarm fire at an illegal garbage dump underneath I-78 near Newark Airport caused heavy damage to the freeway overpass. The source of the fire was a mound of trash 25 feet tall and hundreds of yards long consisting of scrap wood, plastics and paper. The heat of the fire buckled the ten-inch concrete surface and melted steel support beams, and the resulting weight shifts from the highway (which had sagged nearly a foot) damaged bearings and support columns. Hours after the fire was extinguished, smoke continued to seep through the overpass, and the asphalt was still hot enough to push a pen through the surface.

State and local officials immediately closed this 12-lane elevated section of I-78, disrupting a route that more than 90,000 commuters per day had used, and seriously affecting the flows of goods to and from the Newark Airport and Elizabeth Seaport areas. In the ensuing months, as repairs were made to the structure, some lanes of I-78 were reopened to traffic. It was not until the summer of 1990 that all 12 lanes of I-78 were reopened.

CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: From west to east, the NJDOT and other agencies have planned the following improvement projects on I-78 in recent years:

  • The NJDOT and the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission plan to conduct studies on a new EXIT 1 to better serve Alpha Township and downtown Phillipsburg. No further plans have been announced for the new interchange, which would be located just east of the Delaware River toll bridge.

  • Between mileposts 4 and 7 in Greenwich Township, Warren County, the NJDOT built new truck weigh stations along the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-78. New buildings for the weigh stations and a new state police barracks were part of the project, as was the replacement of three bridges along I-78. The $39 million project was completed in 2006.

  • The NJDOT plans to mill and resurface I-78 between mileposts 10 and 18 in Hunterdon County. The $18 million project is scheduled for completion in 2008.

  • The NJDOT plans to complete the eastbound service road for nearly one mile just west of EXIT 15 (Hunterdon CR 513 / Pittstown Road) in Clinton Township. The $1.5 million project, which is designed to improve employee access to a nearby correctional facility, is scheduled for completion in 2007. A separate study will investigate future improvements to EXIT 15.

  • At EXIT 29 (I-287) in Pluckermin Township, the NJDOT plans to rebuild the interchange with I-287 and add missing movements to and from nearby US 202-US 206. The new ramps will be designed such as not to require further land takings. In addition, the NJDOT plans widen US 202-US 206 from two to four lanes in the area of the interchange. However, the NJDOT did not include this project in its 2007-2011 capital plan.

  • At EXIT 43 (Union CR 655 / Diamond Hill Road) in Berkeley Heights Township, the NJDOT plans to build two new ramp movements from I-78 westbound to CR 655 southbound, and from CR 655 northbound to I-78 westbound. The bridge carrying I-78 will be widened to accommodate the ancillary acceleration and deceleration lanes. Originally scheduled for completion in 2004, the $25 million project now is slated for a 2008 completion date.

  • The NJDOT plans a major rehabilitation of the main roadways from EXIT 43 east to EXIT 48 (NJ 24 Freeway) in Springfield Township, and of the local and express lanes from EXIT 48 east to EXIT 58 (US 1-US 9) in Newark. Construction of the $130 million project began in August 2006 and is slated for completion in 2009. To expedite construction, the NJDOT has scheduled intermittent closures of the express and local lanes.

  • In conjunction with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the NJDOT plans to rebuild EXIT 52 (Garden State Parkway) in Union. The $85 million project will supply the movements between the Garden State Parkway and I-78 that were left out when the westernmost section of I-278 (Union Freeway), which was to stretch from US 1-US 9 in Linden to the I-78 / NJ 24 interchange in Springfield, was canceled. At the present time, motorists leaving the northbound Garden State Parkway at EXIT 142 to go west on I-78 must first travel east on I-78 and make a U-turn at EXIT 54 (Essex CR 604 / Winans Avenue) in Hillside. Similarly, motorists leaving the southbound parkway at EXIT 142 to go east on I-78 must first travel west on I-78 and make a U-turn at EXIT 50 (Essex CR 630 / Vauxhall Road) in Vauxhall. Design work and land acquisition began in 2000; construction now is scheduled to take place between 2008 and 2010.

  • At EXIT 56 (Hillside Avenue) in Newark, the NJDOT realigned two existing ramps and built one new ramp. The $7.5 million project, which was finished in 2004, was designed to redirect traffic (especially trucks) away from residential areas.

  • In November 2003, the NJDOT opened new direct ramps at EXIT 57 to connect to NJ 21. The new ramps were part of the $43 million NJ 21 viaduct replacement project over the Amtrak-NJ Transit tracks in Newark.

This 2003 photo shows the westbound I-78 at EXIT 3 (US 22 and NJ 122) in Phillipsburg. The Phillipsburg-Easton Toll Bridge lies three miles ahead of this interchange, which is the last one along I-78 westbound in New Jersey. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

SOURCES: "Jersey Acts To Speed U.S. Aid for Its $388.5 Million Freeway" by George Cable Wright, The New York Times (3/05/1958); "New Roads with New Numbers Will Parallel Old U.S. Routes" by George Cable Wright, The New York Times (9/19/1958); "Public Hearing on Route Studies for I-78," New Jersey State Highway Department (7/15/1960); Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); New Jersey Highway Facts, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1967); "Interstate Route 78: Draft Continuing Environmental Evaluation Document," New Jersey Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (1973); "Public Hearing on Route Studies for I-78," New Jersey State Highway Department (7/20/1981); "I-78 Nears End, but Issues Remain" by Joseph Laura, The New York Times (10/16/1983); "For Jerseyans, a New Route to Escape High Living Costs" by Robert Hanley, The New York Times (6/19/1989); "Fire in Unlicensed Newark Dump Closes Highway" by Anthony DePalma, The New York Times (8/08/1989); "Dredging of Lake Surprise Underway in Watchung Reservation" by Kimberly A. Broadwell, The Westfield Leader (12/09/1999); "Authority OK's Fix for Route 78, GSP Interchange" by Doug Most, The Bergen Record (1/21/2000); "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); "I-78 Work Delayed After Timing Surprises New Jersey Towns" by Jonathan Miller, The New York Times (7/27/2006); North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority; Leo Auray; Chris Blaney; Phil Case; J.P. Cloninger; Richard Cuff; Frank Curcio; Robin L. Hill; Ayan R. Kayal; Jeff Kitsko; George Kowal; Arthur Malkin; Raymond C. Martin; Christopher G. Mason; Richard C. Moeur; Dan Moraseski; Michael Romero; William F. Yurasko.

  • I-78 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

INTERSTATE 78 LINKS:

INTERSTATE 78 CURRENT TRAFFIC MAPS:

INTERSTATE 78 VIDEOS:

  • I-78 (New Jersey) (Jim K. Georges)
  • I-78 (New Jersey) (Dan Murphy)

OFF-SITE EXIT LISTINGS:

Back to The Roads of Metro New York home page.

Site contents © by Eastern Roads. This is not an official site run by a government agency. Recommendations provided on this site are strictly those of the author and contributors, not of any government or corporate entity.