You know Jersey barriers, right? Those concrete dividers in the middle of major highways? The ones that are designed to keep drivers from swerving into oncoming traffic?
I always assumed that they were invented by the folks who brought us the New Jersey Turnpike. Given how many innovations its designers contributed to highway engineering, it only seemed natural, so imagine my surprise when Ivan and I passed this historical marker on Route 173 in Hunterdon County.
The Encyclopedia of New Jersey tells us that the Jersey barrier was "developed ... to minimize the number of out-of-control trucks penetrating the median and eliminate the need for costly and dangerous steel guardrail median barrier maintenance in high-accident locations with narrow medians." Sounds like a problem for a major highway, right? Who'd have thought that the first place it would be installed would be cow country?
On second thought, it makes a lot of sense. I can see where western New Jersey would be a good test area, with lots of two-lane roads where opposing traffic could easily stray in darkness or bad weather, or drunkenness on the part of the driver. As the sign in Bethlehem Township infers, there were plenty of bad accidents right on 173 that likely could have been prevented with a partition separating traffic.
Further research reveals that the original 32-inch barrier was developed at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, under the direction of the state Department of Transportation. The Turnpike Authority later used that design and an Ontario variant to create a highly-reinforced model that effectively shunts errant semi trucks back into the proper lane of traffic.
The irony is that while we saw Jersey barriers all along Route 78 on our trip toward the historical marker, there are no barriers at all on 173. Instead, there's a turning lane in the center of the road, shared by both directions of traffic. It's kind of a shame there's not at least a little bit of the original barrier left in the road, sort of our own New Jersey version of the Berlin Wall. Wouldn't it be cool if there's a remnant of it being preserved somewhere?