Nevertheless, a number of improvements have been made to the NJ 3 Freeway over the past few decades. In the 1960s, the NJ 3 Freeway was widened to six lanes throughout its entire length. During this time, a new plate-girder bridge was constructed parallel to the existing through-truss bridge over the Hackensack River. The new bridge carried four lanes of westbound traffic, while the existing truss bridge carried four lanes of eastbound traffic. In the 1970s, improvements associated with the Meadowlands development were made at NJ 17 interchange in Rutherford, and at the interchange with the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) and Paterson Plank Road (NJ 120) in East Rutherford.
The 1995 reconstruction of the Berry's Creek Bridge (at milepost 6.9) brought the NJ 3 Freeway through the area of the bridge up to eight lanes. Prior to reconstruction, traffic on NJ 3 used the original 1948 "S-3" bridge, which was highly arched to allow vessels to pass underneath. The old six-lane bridge was a constant source of congestion due to its awkward design.
ROUTE 3 TODAY: The NJ 3 Freeway is designed with six to eight 12-foot-wide lanes and 12-foot-wide shoulders. A four-foot-high concrete ("Jersey") barrier separates opposing traffic flows. East of the NJ 21 Freeway interchange in Passaic, the NJ 3 Freeway resembles an Interstate-grade highway. In addition, there is a local-express, dual-dual configuration between the New Jersey Turnpike and the NJ 495 Freeway in Secaucus.
Although the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) classifies NJ 3 as an "urban freeway-expressway," it may be misleading to call NJ 3 a "full freeway" west of NJ 21. Some substandard design characteristics still exist from the NJ 21 Freeway interchange west to the US 46 interchange in Clifton. However, NJ 3 does have shoulder rumble strips, even in the substandard portions. (One telltale sign that NJ 3 is not up to full freeway standards is the recently installed NJDOT mileposts and half-mileposts. In contrast, "full freeways" get mileposts and tenth-mileposts.)
The NJ 3 Freeway serves as a critical east-west route through Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties. According to the NJDOT, NJ 3 carries 140,000 vehicles per day (AADT) from the I-95 / NJ 495 junction west to NJ 21, and 125,000 vehicles per day from NJ 21 west to US 46.
MAJOR REBUILD OVER THE PASSAIC RIVER: In 1998, the NJDOT unveiled plans for a major reconstruction project on the NJ 3 Freeway through Passaic, Lyndhurst and Rutherford. The $266 project will include the following improvements:
The existing six-lane moveable bridge over the Passaic River was replaced with a new fixed bridge. Originally built as a four-lane structure, high traffic volumes over the years prompted the conversion of the shoulders into traffic lanes, creating hazardous conditions at the interchanges on either side of the bridge. The existing bridge, which has not had an opening since the 1980s, required frequent maintenance repairs to the concrete slabs on the approach spans, and to the open steel grating deck on the moveable span. The new fixed bridge has six through-traffic lanes, an additional lane in each direction for acceleration-deceleration, and shoulders. Replacement took place in stages, one direction at a time.
On either side of the Passaic River Bridge, the NJDOT rebuilt entrance and exit ramps to provide improved geometry (and safety) at the NJ 21 Freeway interchange in Passaic, and at the Riverside Avenue interchange in Rutherford.
Along a two-mile-long stretch of the NJ 3 Freeway mainline, the NJDOT also built new shoulders and acceleration-deceleration lanes. The widening of the mainline required the erection of new bridges carrying the freeway over the NJ 21 ramps and the New Jersey Transit tracks in Clifton, and the construction of new bridges over the freeway at Orient Way, Ridge Road, and Park Avenue.
The NJDOT also made improvements to service roads and local intersections to increase safety and relieve congestion.
The NJDOT completed the final engineering and environmental design by early 2008, and built the project between mid-2008 and mid-2011.
CHANGES FOR INTERCHANGES: In 2003, the NJDOT rebuilt the interchange between the NJ 495 Freeway, the NJ 3 Freeway and US 1-US 9 (Tonnelle Avenue). The $16 million project featured the modification of ramps between NJ 3, NJ 495 and US 1-US 9, the construction of a third southbound lane on US 1-US 9, and the rebuilding of the US 1-US 9 bridge over the Amtrak-NJ Transit Northeast Corridor line.
Further east, the NJDOT rebuilt the ramp from southbound NJ 120 (Paterson Plank Road) to the eastbound NJ 3 Freeway. Previously, NJ 120 traffic merged onto the left lane of the freeway, and motorists bound for the Meadowlands Parkway exit had to cross four lanes in less than one-quarter mile over the Hackensack River. The project would replace the existing ramp with a new ramp that joins the right lane of eastbound NJ 3. Completed in 2008, the new $20 million ramp was part of $71 million of traffic improvements around the Meadowlands in advance of the new Met Life Stadium and the American Dream shopping-entertainment complex.
CHANGES ON HOLD, FOR NOW: In the early 2000s, the NJDOT announced plans to rebuild the interchange between NJ 3 and US 46 at the western terminus in Clifton. Proposed improvements to the NJ 3 / US 46 / Valley Road interchange the reconstruction and reconfiguration of ramps, construction of new bridges with 16'6"-standard clearances, installation of new traffic signals at the interchanges, and erection of new sound walls. Specifically, three-lane connections will be constructed at the interchange to replace the existing two-lane connections to relieve congestion, and westbound US 46 will be realigned to converge with westbound NJ 3 from the right to improve safety. The NJDOT conducted public hearings on the $200 million project during 2003, and scheduled construction for the 2007-2011 time frame. However, as of 2019, the state has yet to begin work on this interchange.