CONNECTING THE TURNPIKE, THE AIRPORT AND THE SEAPORT: In the early 1960's, the New Jersey State Highway Department proposed a freeway connecting Newark Airport with Elizabeth Seaport. As a replacement for surface route NJ 164 (Humboldt Avenue), the proposed NJ 81 Freeway was to provide a direct link to the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) and US 1-US 9. (The NJ 164 designation has since been retired.)

The short freeway was initially planned as the NJ 76 Freeway, but when I-76 replaced the former I-80S designation through South Jersey in 1964, the Newark-Elizabeth route was re-designated NJ 81. Toward the end of the 1960's, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) outlined its plans for the NJ 81 Freeway as follows:

Beginning at the Interstate 278 interchange (EXIT 13) with the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) in Elizabeth, the proposed NJ 81 Freeway will extend north parallel to the turnpike, then extend northwest to the vicinity of McClellan Street in Newark. With the scheduled expansion of the Port Elizabeth area, this arterial route will also serve the port facilities now in operation. Design has commenced pending public hearing.

The Tri-State Transportation Commission also supported construction of the NJ 81 Freeway in its report,
Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan:

This north-south route, part of the US 1 relocation through Elizabeth, will provide an improved connection to the (Verrazano) Narrows Bridge for Newark and eastern Essex County. It will improve access to the New Jersey Turnpike for Newark, relieving congested arterial streets.

In this report, the commission recommended that the NJ 81 Freeway be extended north along US 1-US 9, ending at I-78 near Newark Airport. North of I-78, the route was to continue as the NJ 21 Freeway. The proposed 3.0-mile, four-lane NJ 81 Freeway was estimated to cost $30 million. The entire NJ 81-NJ 21 route was designated as a priority project for completion by 1975.

The I-95 / I-278 interchange (New Jersey Turnpike, EXIT 13) has four ghost ramps that were to be used for the eastern terminus of the NJ 81 Freeway. The ramps, which are to and from the turnpike toll plaza, and to and from the Goethals Bridge, would have formed part of a "3Y" layout.

Plans developed later had traffic bound for the Goethals Bridge utilize the New Jersey Turnpike via a truncated NJ 81 Freeway. By the time construction began in 1979, the route of the NJ 81 Freeway was shortened to 1.2 miles. A new direct interchange - EXIT 13A (Newark Airport and Elizabeth Seaport) - was to be constructed for the freeway. The NJ 81 Freeway opened to traffic in 1982.

According to the NJDOT, the NJ 81 Freeway (whose designation is not signed) carries approximately 25,000 vehicles per day (AADT). The short route is used primarily by motorists approaching Newark Airport from more southerly points, as well as by trucks bound for the airport and seaport.

INTERSTATE PLANS: In 1970, the state of New Jersey submitted a proposal to include the NJ 81 Freeway and a section of US 1-US 9 near Newark Airport in the Interstate highway system. However, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rejected the proposal.

These photos taken in 2000 show the northbound (left photo) and southbound (right photo) NJ 81 Freeway through Elizabeth. The short connector between the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) and US 1-US 9 does not have any NJ 81 signs. (Photos by Raymond C. Martin.)

SOURCES: 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); "Report on the Status of the Federal-Aid Highway Program," Committee on Public Works, U.S. Senate (1970); New Jersey Turnpike Authority; George Kowal; Raymond C. Martin; Dan Moraseski; Scott Oglesby; William F. Yurasko.

  • NJ 81 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.




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