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I-95 is almost complete – 60 years late

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Photo by author.

Within walking distance of my home is this sign, which, along with others at several exits along I-95 between the Delaware River and Route 1 approaching Princeton in New Jersey, confuses people on a daily basis. Just about every day when passing by, I see cars pulling to the side of the road as their drivers slow down, confused. This particular exit is in between Camden and New York, so the sign would naturally raise questions for someone who doesn’t live here and doesn’t understand the quirkiness of I-95 in New Jersey. That confusion will soon be a thing of the past.

What is I-95 today was originally conceived in the 1930s. A 1939 federal report entitled Toll Roads and Free Roads proposed several highways, including one along the east coast and running through central New Jersey. President Eisenhower included that particular route when he proposed an interstate highway system in the 1950s.

In today’s world, I-95 runs between Miami and the Canadian border at Houlton, Maine. There are multiple beltways and offshoots along its 1,900 or so miles, but one of the more unusual quirks starts around Christiana going north in Delaware. The highway splits three ways, with I-295 heading northeast toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I-495 heading north in Delaware to the Pennsylvania state line, and I-95 paralleling I-495 but continuing into Pennsylvania and on to Philadelphia and beyond, more or less running on the west side of the Delaware.

After crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey, I-295 splits again, with the New Jersey Turnpike heading toward New York and I-295 roughly paralleling the Turnpike, sometimes running right alongside, until it reaches U.S. Route 1 near Princeton, 67 miles from the bridge. The roadway continues after U.S. Route 1, changing to I-95 and heading west instead of north for about nine miles, until it crosses the Delaware again and turns south toward Philadelphia. Don’t be confused, though many people are and have been for decades.

Travelers who stay on I-95 north through Philadelphia and beyond are perplexed when they cross into New Jersey at the Scudders Falls Bridge and come up on the U.S. Route 1 exit, where I-95 officially ends and becomes I-295 south. At the moment, the easiest connection back to I-95 north is to continue on I-295 south, then take exit 60 onto I-195 heading east. This connects to the New Jersey Turnpike a few miles later.

Map courtesy State of New Jersey.

Old plans for a continuous I-95 will finally come to fruition by September of 2018, when Pennsylvania and New Jersey are expected to finish the connector from the existing I-95 north in Pennsylvania, linking it with a crossing of the Delaware near Bristol Township and merging it with the New Jersey Turnpike. The remaining northbound part of the current I-95 in Pennsylvania will be renamed I-295 to match the extension of I-295 from U.S. Route 1 in Princeton to the Scudders Falls Bridge.

This is not quite the route originally planned in that 1939 report and in Eisenhower’s vision from the 1950s. In those days, the connection in central New Jersey was known as the Somerset Highway, which would have connected I-95 in Pennsylvania with what is known today as I-287, a beltway running far west of New York City into New Jersey. In doing so, the highway would have passed through New Jersey’s scenic Hopewell Valley and the Sourland Mountains east of the Delaware near Hopewell, Lambertville, and Princeton in New Jersey.

Nearby residents fought the routing at every opportunity in the 1960s and 1970s, even rejecting suggestions that the roadway be built without exits to assuage local concerns. The most unusual suggestion was probably one which would have put much of the roadway underground. Environmental and political concerns festered for years with the result that I-95 had an official gap in its planned, continuous north-south route along the East coast.

By the fall of 2018, all connections should be made and I-95 will be a continuous ribbon of asphalt for more than 1,900 miles. I’ve driven much of it over the years, even the old two-lane section in Maine as it neared the Canadian border. I remember driving the highway when there were no separate truck lanes north of exit 7 on the New Jersey Turnpike, and I vividly remember sliding sideways and facing the median guardrail along a stretch of I-95 for about an eighth of a mile on an icy night before getting the car under control.

I’ve purposely never driven the official I-95 route through New York City. I’ve always used the I-287 beltway to the west or the Garden State Parkway between I-87 in New York state and exit 11 on the New Jersey Turnpike. I only drove once in New York City, something I have promised myself never to do again, so I suppose I will never be able to say I’ve driven all of I-95. With the coming change, though, I will be able to say I’ve driven a part of I-95 that will soon no longer exist.

I-95 will finally be continuous in 2018, just 60 or so years later than planned.