LINKING THE MEADOWLANDS WITH THE NEW YORK STATE THRUWAY: Originally built between 1923 and 1929, NJ 17 connects the New Jersey Meadowlands and the Newark area with NY 17 in Rockland County. The route was re-designated NJ 2 in 1929, but with the outbreak of World War II in 1941, state highway officials changed the route designation back to NJ 17 to provide a single evacuation route from urban areas to upstate New York.
As northern New Jersey developed in the postwar years, the New Jersey State Highway Department embarked on a program to improve NJ 17. Between 1953 and 1960, the state widened NJ 17 from four to six lanes north of NJ 3 in Rutherford, and eliminated all at-grade intersections from I-80 in Lodi north to the New Jersey-New York border in Mahwah.
According to the NJDOT, the six-lane, 23-mile-long NJ 17 arterial carries approximately 100,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through Bergen County. Since commercial vehicles cannot use the nearby Garden State Parkway, NJ 17 serves as an important north-south truck route between I-80 (Bergen-Passaic Expressway) and I-87 / I-287 (New York State Thruway).
PROPOSED FREEWAY UPGRADES: As early as 1936, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) recommended inclusion of the NJ 17 corridor in its network of expressways that were to supplement existing parkways in the New York metropolitan area. Unlike the existing parkways, the expressways were to be open to all traffic. However, the outbreak of World War II delayed work on the ambitious expressway network.
In the 1960's, the Regional Plan Association recommended that the NJ 17 corridor be upgraded to contemporary freeway standards. However, fears of community disruption and the high cost of relocating businesses along the route prevented this plan from being implemented.
In 1972, the NJDOT proposed an extension of NJ 17 as a freeway on new alignment south of NJ 3 into the Newark area. The new five-mile-long freeway, which was expected to cost $50 million, was described in the NJDOT report Master Plan for Transportation as follows:
The development of the Hackensack Meadowlands in Bergen County to its fullest potential can only be assured with the development of an adequate transportation network providing the necessary access. As part of the transportation network, there arises the need for a high-speed, north-south connector between I-280 and NJ 3 in the NJ 17 corridor. Since NJ 17 does not exist south of NJ 7, and since development along its right-of-way north of NJ 7 negates the possibility of adequate improvements, a freeway will be constructed on new alignment from I-280 in Newark (Harrison) to NJ 3 in Rutherford.
The defeat of the statewide transportation bond issue that year killed a number of proposed freeways throughout the state, including the NJ 17 Freeway extension to Newark.
Fifteen years later, there was a second plan to extend NJ 17 south of NJ 3 in Rutherford. Specifically, a 1987 plan advanced by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority called for construction of a new interchange, "EXIT 15 W-A," for an extension of NJ 17 approximately one mile south of EXIT 16 (NJ 3). The new interchange was to be constructed in conjunction with an expansion of the western spur from its current six-lane (3-3) configuration to a twelve-lane, 3-3-3-3 configuration. The proposal was shelved not long after the environmental impact process had been concluded.
CHANGES FOR ROUTE 17: In November 1999, the NJDOT completed a two-year-long, $120 million project to reconstruct the Paramus interchange between NJ 17 and NJ 4. The original cloverleaf interchange, which dates back to 1932, was outfitted with two new flyover ramps that provide for three levels of traffic. One flyover connects southbound NJ 17 to eastbound NJ 4, and the other flyover connects northbound NJ 17 to westbound NJ 4. A second interchange was constructed on NJ 4 to serve nearby shopping centers.
The state has planned the following additional improvements to NJ 17:
The NJDOT plans to spend $14 million in interchange and geometry improvements to NJ 17 in the area of NJ 120 (Paterson Plank Road) in East Rutherford. The project is part of $71 million of traffic improvements around the Meadowlands in advance of the new Giants Stadium and Xanadu shopping-entertainment complex.
The NJDOT also plans to spend $75 million through 2009 to replace five bridges and upgrade sewers in advance of future NJ 17 widening. Eventually, the NJDOT plans to widen NJ 17 from four to six through-traffic lanes from NJ 4 in Paramus south to I-80 in Lodi.