A NEW FREEWAY TO SUSSEX COUNTY: In 1967, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) announced plans for a new freeway connecting rapidly growing, suburban Morris County with newly developing recreational areas in Sussex County. This announcement came after six years of study on how to improve traffic flow along the NJ 15 corridor between I-80 in Rockaway Township and the proposed US 206 and NJ 94 freeways in Ross Corner.

The NJDOT described the 17.5-mile-long, $35 million NJ 15 Freeway proposal as follows:

The NJ 15 Freeway will be on new alignment connecting existing NJ 15 and Interstate 80 near Wharton Township, Morris County to US 206 and CR 565 near Ross Corner, Sussex County. This north-south freeway will provide additional access to Tocks Island National Recreation Area, which is scheduled to open by 1975, and will relieve traffic on existing NJ 15.

Construction of the current 8.2-mile section of the NJ 15 Freeway, between Morris CR 615 in Jefferson Township and NJ 181 in Sparta Township, was completed in 1974. The four-lane freeway, which carries approximately 30,000 vehicles per day (AADT), has an additional climbing lane in each direction through mountainous areas. Even through its mountainous stretches, the freeway has a maximum grade of five percent. The right-of-way width ranges from 300 feet to 400 feet. Upon completion of the NJ 15 Freeway, the existing NJ 15 was re-designated NJ 181.

The following two unbuilt sections of the NJ 15 Freeway were highlighted in NJDOT statewide freeway development programs in the late 1960's and early 1970's:

  • WHARTON TO JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP: Carrying an average of 50,000 vehicles per day (AADT), this section south of the existing freeway is the busiest section of NJ 15. The 3.9-mile section, which has four lanes (except for a small section near I-80 that has six lanes), currently has partial access control, but has some at-grade intersections. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) classifies the existing route as an "urban principal arterial." The original plans called for a six-lane NJ 15 Freeway in the vicinity of I-80 in Rockaway Township, an improved interchange with I-80, and a new grade-separated interchange with Berkshire Valley Road in Lake Hopatcong.

  • SPARTA TO ROSS CORNER: North of the existing freeway terminus in Sparta, NJ 15 is a two-lane road carrying about 15,000 vehicles per day (AADT). The original plans for the NJ 15 Freeway called for interchanges at the unbuilt US 206 and NJ 94 freeways in Ross Corner.

The NJDOT canceled these freeway extension proposals in the mid-1970's due to fiscal and environmental concerns. However, several towns along the NJ 15 corridor kept the issue alive in the years since, as described in the following misc.transport.road post by engineer Guy Olsen:

In the late 1980's, Sussex County, along with several municipalities hired a local engineer-consultant, Harold Pellow, to study an extension of the NJ 15 Freeway north from its current terminus. It included the development of alignments from NJ 181 in Sparta north to Tuttles Corner (Sussex CR 560) in Sandyston Township. The report featured two alternative alignments roughly parallel to NJ 15 and US 206; although not explicitly stated, segments of the alignments were interchangeable.

The county and municipalities passed resolutions supporting the study findings, and went to the NJDOT to request action. At a public meeting in October 2000, Pellow described the response by Hazel Gluck, NJDOT commissioner at the time: "those are our roads and you can't tell us what to do with them."

RELIEVING CONGESTION ON EXISTING ROUTE 15: Since 1998, the NJDOT and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) have studied various improvements along the NJ 15 corridor, and their impact on traffic, future development and the environment. In an executive summary report released in March 2001, the NJDOT highlighted the following improvements:

  • At the NJ 15 / I-80 interchange in Rockaway Township, interchange movements that are currently missing (separate movements from I-80 eastbound to NJ 15 southbound and NJ 15 northbound, and from NJ 15 northbound to I-80 westbound) will be constructed. Geometric, structural and pavement deficiencies will also be addressed at this interchange.

  • The mainline NJ 15 will be widened to provide three through traffic lanes in each direction from I-80 to the southern terminus of the NJ 15 Freeway in Jefferson Township, a distance of five miles. Intersection improvements will be made at Berkshire Valley Road. Collector-distributor (C/D) roads may be constructed along the median of NJ 15 through the commercial district in Jefferson Township. Improvements will also be made to shoulders, acceleration-deceleration lanes, traffic signals and jughandles. Finally, a park-and-ride lot will be constructed in Jefferson Township.

  • Along the existing NJ 15 Freeway section, the NJDOT will make minor improvement to entrance and exit ramps. The park-and-ride lot at the Blue Heron Road interchange in Sparta will also be expanded.

  • North of the existing freeway section, the NJDOT plans to widen the existing NJ 15 from NJ 181 in Sparta north to NJ 94 in Lafayette. The new four-lane section would have left-turn lanes, realigned intersections at Wilson Road and White Lake Road, and new grade-separation structures to replace the existing railroad crossings. (The NJDOT considered an extension of the NJ 15 Freeway on new alignment north into Lafayette, but later dropped the idea, citing quality-of-life concerns, environmental sensitivity and the rural character of the area.) This $11.3 million improvement has been included in the NJDOT short-term statewide transportation plan, and is slated for completion in 2003.

The NJDOT corridor management plan cited a New Jersey Transit proposal to initiate passenger service on the New York, Susquehanna and Western freight line as playing a possible role in relieving traffic along NJ 15.

In May 2002, Governor James McGreevey broke ground for the NJ 15 reconstruction project in Sparta. The reconstruction and widening project is favored by most Sussex County residents, who believe that alleviating congestion would improve the quality of life, but is stubbornly opposed by members of the Sierra Club, who fear that urban sprawl would expand into Sussex County.

To alleviate congestion and accommodate future growth in this corridor, the NJ 15 Freeway should be extended south from its present terminus at Morris CR 615 in Jefferson Township to I-80 in Rockaway Township. The expressway should have three lanes in each direction, divided by a grassed center median. Along sections where this route would be constructed along a new alignment (such as the commercial district in Jefferson Township), environmental mitigation procedures should be followed.

SOURCES: Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1966); "Change of Status of Route 15: Public Hearing," New Jersey Department of Transportation (2/21/1967); New Jersey Highway Facts, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1967); Master Plan for Transportation, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1972); "Route 15 Needs Assessment and Concept Development Study," New Jersey Department of Transportation (2001); "McGreevey Breaks Ground for Route 15 Expansion" by Michael Daigle, The Daily Record (5/15/2002); "Widening of Route 15 Ill-Advised, Critics Say" by Chris Gosier, The Daily Record (7/31/2002); North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority; Rich Dean; Chris Helms; Arthur Malkin; Raymond C. Martin; Christopher G. Mason; Dan Moraseski; Guy Olsen; William F. Yurasko.

  • NJ 15 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.





  • NJ 15 Freeway

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.

Web nycroads.com