THE NEWARK MIDTOWN FREEWAY: In 1961, the New Jersey State Highway Department announced a comprehensive plan to alleviate congestion through Newark. The "Newark Transportation Study" recommended the construction of a new north-south route - the NJ 75 Freeway, or Newark Midtown Freeway - to connect the NJ 21 Freeway with I-280, I-78 and Newark Airport. The proposed expressway, which was to provide a truck alternative to the nearby Garden State Parkway, was to serve through traffic, while the existing NJ 21 was to serve local traffic. It was expected to handle 45,000 vehicles per day (AADT) by 1975.

Rather than taking a route directly through downtown Newark, as the existing NJ 21 (McCarter Highway) does, the proposed NJ 75 Freeway was to be constructed west of downtown. Beginning at the NJ 21 Freeway just south of EXIT 4 (Chester Avenue), the NJ 75 Freeway was to swing west to Clifton Avenue in the vicinity of Branch Brook. Passing through I-280, the proposed route was to follow Norfolk Avenue and Belmont Avenue (Irvine Turner Boulevard) corridor south to I-78. Swinging back east in the vicinity of Weequahic Lake, the NJ 75 Freeway was to terminate at US 1-US 9 near the entrance to Newark International Airport.

Map of the NJ 75 (Newark Midtown) Freeway, as originally proposed by the New Jersey State Highway Department. The existing NJ 21 (McCarter Highway) was to become a reconstructed arterial serving downtown Newark, while NJ 75 was to serve as a through freeway route.

Interchanges were to be constructed at the following locations:

  • NJ 21 Freeway (N/B terminus)
  • Park Avenue (N/B exit only)
  • I-280 (S/B and N/B exits)
  • Central Avenue (N/B exit only)
  • Market Street (S/B exit only)
  • Court Street (N/B exit only)
  • Kinney Street (S/B exit only)
  • Waverly Avenue (N/B exit only)
  • Avon Avenue (S/B exit only)
  • Alpine Street (N/B exit only)
  • Runyon Street (S/B exit only)
  • I-78 (S/B and N/B exits)
  • US 22 (S/B exit only)
  • NJ 27 (S/B exit only)
  • US 1-US 9 (S/B terminus)

(Map from "Newark Transportation Plan," New Jersey State Highway Department, 1961.)

PART OF A FREE I-95? One 1962 proposal by the state highway department called for an even larger proposal for the NJ 75 Freeway. The freeway was to be part of a 60-mile-long alternative alignment for Interstate 95 from the New Jersey Meadowlands southwest toward Belleville and into Newark along the proposed NJ 75 alignment. South of I-78, the proposed alignment of I-95 was to continue southwest through Essex, Union, Middlesex, Somerset and Mercer counties, paralleling the route of the New Jersey Turnpike some five to ten miles to the west.

The proposed I-95 / NJ 75 was to serve both express and local functions. Through the city of Newark, the expressway was to have a 2-3-3-2 configuration, with two local lanes (for NJ 75 traffic) and three express lanes (for I-95 traffic) in each direction.

In 1964, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) denied New Jersey's I-95 alignment north of I-287. Instead, the BPR-approved alignment took I-95 east along I-287 to the New Jersey Turnpike, and then north along the turnpike to the George Washington Bridge. (The BPR-approved section of I-95 between I-295 in Mercer County and I-287 in Middlesex County was canceled in the early 1980's.)

ROUGH ROAD AHEAD: In 1967, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) scaled back plans for the NJ 75 Freeway, recommending that a short section between I-78 and I-280 be constructed first. The route was described as follows:

The NJ 75 Freeway, a new approved alignment, is a vital link in a north-south artery that will ultimately provide a through route from Interstate 80 in Passaic County to the Goethals Bridge and Staten Island. Completion of the project will prove costly because of dense urban development within the area it traverses.

The two-mile-long NJ 75 Freeway was estimated to cost $69.2 million in 1967; two years later, its cost estimate had been raised to $115 million. A significant portion of this amount was to go toward right-of-way acquisition and condemnation. Noting the high cost of this freeway, the Tri-State Transportation Commission recommended construction of only the section between I-78 and I-280, not the entire route from I-80 to the Goethals Bridge. Nevertheless, the commission advocated its construction as a priority proposal.

Citing high costs, shifting transportation priorities and the politically charged environment in wake of the Newark riots, the NJDOT suspended activity along the route in 1969 due to the "shortage of adequate relocation facilities." However, this did not stop the state from submitting its proposal to include the NJ 75 Freeway as part of the Interstate highway system to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 1970.

Even as the expressway remained on planning maps through the early 1970's, minority communities in Newark, whose political power first became evident in the previous decade, kept the road stalled in the courts. By 1973, the NJDOT and the FHWA shelved plans for the freeway. However, it was not until 1997 that the New Jersey State Legislature finally removed the NJ 75 Freeway from the official NJDOT route log. Today, the multi-lane exits at I-78 (EXIT 56) and I-280 (EXIT 13) in Newark stand as remnants of the aborted NJ 75 Freeway.

WILL THE FREEWAY BE REVIVED? While the NJDOT has no plans to revive the NJ 75 Freeway, the state does have a long-term plan to relieve congestion in the corridor. Sometime after 2004, the NJDOT plans to construct 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. Right-of-way that was purchased in the 1960's for the NJ 75 Freeway has been set aside for the short connector.

SOURCES: "Newark Transportation Study," New Jersey State Highway Department (1961); "Alternate Route Study: Interstate Route 95," New Jersey State Highway Department (1962); Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1966); New Jersey Highway Facts, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1967); "Newark Negroes Pick Two Candidates" by C. Gerald Fraser, The New York Times (6/24/1968); New Jersey Highway Facts, New Jersey Department of Transportation (1969); "Report on the Status of the Federal-Aid Highway Program," Committee on Public Works, U.S. Senate (1970); Chris Blaney; Frank Curcio; George Kowal; Dan Moraseski; Scott Oglesby; William F. Yurasko.

  • NJ 75 and I-95 shields by Ralph Herman.


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