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Turnpike

USA | Saturday, 24 December 2011 | Views [362]

The New Jersey Turnpike is twelve lanes wide and runs 200km north south between Fort Lee and Carneys Point. While not the busiest highway in the USA it is still heavy with traffic. Cars and buses, vans and trucks hug its gently engineered curves and lanes of concrete and asphalt.

I travel it twice. Heading south from NY to Philadelphia and then returning from DC a week later. On both occasions the road is dense but not packed, and the traffic roars along just above the legal limit of 65.

Going there is morning. It is cold but the sky is clear. It is an ugly road, carved through a more or less rotting industrial landscape. The first overpasses clear old warehouses and shipping containers, skirt tankers and refineries and grey, rubble strewn estuaries.

How different from the parkway that connects Philadelphia with DC. Broad shoulders of cut grass, central islands of spruce and birch forest. All stripped bare of leaves. It is winter after all. Brown signs announce large and small waterfalls, historic sites, proving grounds, ordnance facilities.

Not so in the north. Instead there are big box malls and flyovers.

Coming home is no different. Dusk approaches and lights from the refineries and co-generation plants blink above their maze like extrusions of pipes and towers. The traffic if anything is heavier. No more aggressive, but made to feel so by the diminishing light.

One thing strikes me. The highway is not six lanes north and six south but three three three three. As if in expanding the road the engineers simply built a new one next to it, and realigned the bridges that had previously fed the dual carriageway.

Above me are two signs for exit 12. Two bridges describing graceful arcs to the right. Two ramps to funnel cross traffic down onto the road.

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