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Nerves of Steel Needed -Take a Ride on the Pulaski Skyway [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

It’s a highway, 75 years old, that soars hundreds of feet in the air bypassing railroads, interstates, factories, multiple towns and even a canal. Thanks to the magnificent structure, it’s been made famous in books and movies, yet requires nerves of steel to drive. Take a ride on The Pulaski Skyway and find out how the mammoth structure earned its way into the history books!

To be given the name “skyway” it must truly mean the highway soars way up into the air.  Seeing this structure in person turns you into a believer, it’s most certainly a skyway!

The Pulaski Skyway runs from Newark to Jersey City, NJ, giving traffic an express route to the Holland Tunnel headed for New York City. The mega-structure totals 3.5 miles and opened on November 24, 1932, becoming one of the first super-highways in the United States. Made of numerous bridges, all connected into one soaring mega structure, the highway carries four lanes and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Government photo showing the massive length of the Pulaski Skyway.

The structure is named for Casimir Pulaski, who was a Polish military leader that lead Continental Army troops in the Revolutionary War. Construction of the span resulted in 15 accidental deaths and one labor related murder. A local rumor says Jimmy Hoffa’s body is buried underneath, but there’s about a zillion rumors as to where he was finally disposed of.

General Pulaski

Trucks, pedestrians, and bicycles are prohibited on the skyway. The four lane highway barely fits onto the structure, leaving no room for a shoulder or sidewalk. In addition to the entrance at either end, two additional left exit ramps are located in the center of the structure to serve local streets.  While the speed limit is posted at 45 MPH, the road is a high speed free-for-all, since there is no room for police to clock speeders. The two tight center exit ramps climb from below, deposit cars into the left passing lane, often making for a hair raising suicide merge into heavy, speeding traffic.

These ramps were originally constructed to allow trucks access to the warehouse district below, but their dangerous design featuring sharp turns, steep grade and slippery pavement was deemed too dangerous for trucks. An additional, sharp turn exit ramp is located at both the north and south end of the skyway. After numerous accidents on the bridge involving trucks, Jersey City passed an ordinance forbidding them on their section of the bridge, which still stands today for “the safety and welfare of the public.”

After the Holland Tunnel opened in 1927, traffic increased in the area and officials worked on plans to extend US Route 1 with a super highway. Before the skyway opened, drivers would continue along the Lincoln Highway via surface streets and over two drawbridges, which were often raised for boat traffic. Today, trucks that are banned from the skyway must use this old route, which has been designated US 1-9T.

Early discussions also included the possibility of tolling the skyway, but after securing enough funds from the government to cover maintenance, that idea was dropped.

Heading towards the Holland Tunnel via the Pulaski Skyway with the New York City skyline.

When the structure first opened, it was striped for five lanes, with the center lane being used as a breakdown lane for disabled vehicles. However, impatient drivers used it as an additional suicide passing lane leading to a high number for crashes. A median was installed during the 1950’s, the road re-striped for four lanes, and a new coat of pavement was also added to make the road less slippery after more than 400 crashes a year were occurring.

While the skyway shortens commute time for motorists bound for Newark Airport or New York City, it can often be an unpredictable ride.

Large numbers of cars regularly use the bridge with that free for all on speed. While the views of the bay and surrounding area are spectacular, drivers may want to keep their eyes on the road for aggressive drivers or slow drivers entering at 0 seconds notice from the left on ramps. Traffic often backs up at the south end with vehicles bound for the Holland Tunnel.

Check out this video from a motorcycle helmet cam of the driver topping 100 MPH on the structure. The skyway portion starts at around 2:30.

The design truly feels like a video game and it has earned its way into Grand Theft Auto IV . (Although, with a different name.)

After the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the New Jersey Department of Transportation inspected the road for structural instabilities and found that it was one of eight bridges in “high need” of repair. The first step was the installation of nets underneath to catch falling debris. NJDOT spends millions annually on the upkeep of the bridge and has no plans on replacement within the next decade. The main structure itself has seen little alteration since opening.

Being such a large and majestic structure, the skyway has found its way into radio, film, and television. One of the first references to the bridge was in the original 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. In the radio play, that would eventually cause nationwide panic having listeners believe a real alien invasion was taking place, a news report indicates that a Martian ship is startling the bridge. This scene was replicated in the 2005 motion picture, using the nearby Bayonne Bridge, instead.

It was also featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock film, Shadow of a Doubt and in the 1979 film, Hair.  Most recently, it was featured in the opening credits of the TV series The Sopranos.

The southern entrance of the structure is undergoing a major redesign, with a mega-exit ramp to provide access to the Tonnele Circle viaduct, a major intersection. What was once a simple exit that gave drivers a last second option to exit before the bridge, now goes on a giant 360° double circle and has been under construction for years. The project still has many more ramps to add on with the purposes of cleaning up access to the congested traffic circle underneath the skyway.

The Skyway Diner in Kearny, New Jersey

Below the Kearny exit ramp, the Skyway Diner also sits.  The diner was featured in episode 18 of The Sopranos and closed in 2007, but reopened in 2010.

THE 411

Name: Pulaski Skyway
What: 3.5 mi elevated roadway between Newark & Jersey City, NJ
Speed Limit: variable at 45MPH (rarely enforced)

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:

For me, it’s a short cut that avoids taking the tolled Jersey Turnpike to Newark Airport.  I love driving on this thing.  It really is an adventure.  The structure itself is something to see in person.  If you’re in the area, it can be seen from exit 15E of the turnpike.  It’s also minutes away from the New Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel and signs direct you to the structure.  The massive structure is also clearly visible from airplanes landing at Newark-Liberty International Airport.

While the road is generally safe, rain and snow can make for a challenging ride.  The skyway is also known to have many fender benders and accidents during the year, giving it the unofficial honor of one of the most dangerous bridges in America.  It is one road, I would never get on in a motorcycle.

In 2011, the Texas Transportation Institute, named the skyway the sixth most unreliable road in the United States due to the unpredictability of traffic conditions and travel times.

While the speed limit is 45MPH, you may actually cause an accident by driving that slow.  Police patrol the structure, but there is little room to pull anyone over for speeding, and the locals know it.  With no traffic stoppages, the ride from one end to the other takes around 5 minutes.  Just don’t be a speed demon on there are remain very, very alert.  The road is often congested and is packed with cars.  Driving it, truly feels like driving in a video game, but you don’t need a fender bender or a higher insurance premium as a long term reminder of your ride.

Image credits: grantuhard, Elvert Barnes, Friscocali, dotpolka, Pro-Zak

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