Friday, February 17, 2012

If you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway, what do you do on the state's shortest highway?

Since I was a kid, it's been on my bucket list to walk one of New Jersey's highways from end to end. I'd read Michael Aaron Rockland's accounts of hiking Route 1 and Route 22, and the idea, while a bit crazy, seemed like a good one. You can see a lot more at a walking pace than you ever could from a speeding car.

There are a lot of logistics to consider before you take on a highway walk. Where will you stay at the end of the day? Do you have someone pick you up, drive you home and then return you the next morning to the place where you left off, or do you find a motel? How much sustenance do you carry? And how do you deal with the lack of sidewalks? Traffic has gotten heavier and faster since Rockland made his treks in the late 70's, so perhaps his methods wouldn't suffice. Obviously, I need to select my walking highway very carefully.

I think I've found it: State Route 59. Lined with a sidewalk for its full length, its traffic is reasonable and I'm certain I could walk it in a single day. If I can't there's definitely something wrong: it's only 0.15 miles long.

Planned route for NJ 22.
Why in heck would the state build such a short highway? The simple answer is that it didn't mean to. Originally designated State Highway 22, the road was to stretch from the Pine Brook bridge in West Caldwell to Route 27 in Rahway. For some reason, plans never came to fruition, so we're left with a brief bit of road that passes under the Raritan Valley Line railroad bridge, as well as a classic concrete New Jersey highway bridge railing at the intersection of 59 and State Route 28 in Garwood.

If you stand next to that concrete bridge rail and look north, you stare straight at an old residential neighborhood. Maybe that was part of the issue -- the state would have had a heck of a time gaining the necessary property for the road, even with eminent domain.

Looking at the inscriptions on the end posts on the concrete bridge, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the road was intended to be a spur of or replacement for the highway we know today as US Route 22. Route 59 was, in fact, originally designated as State Route 22, even though US 22 already existed in New Jersey (however, in Union and Essex Counties, US 22 was known as State Highway 29, which doesn't intersect with current day State 29 in the Trenton/Lambertville area. Confused yet?). This and other thoroughfare perplexities necessitated highway renumberings in 1927 and again in 1953, when our little 0.15 mile of heaven was redesignated as 59. Nobody made the change on the bridge marker, though, so observant passers-by will no doubt have fun trying to figure out how much more convoluted 22 could possibly get.

One of these days, I'll hit the road and actually walk the length of 59. I'll park at the Walgreens at the southern end, carefully cross the driveway, walk under the railroad overpass and continue past the empty lot to the right until I reach the corner. I might even cross Route 28 to check out the concrete bridge and then head to the adjacent liquor store for a celebratory beverage. I won't want to drink it there, though: it'll be another road crossing and a little more than a tenth of a mile to get back to my car. That's not nearly enough time to get my blood alcohol content down to drive legally.

2 comments:

  1. Great write up. I learned about this short highway via Geocaching and had to run out right away to visit it. I walked the entire length twice. Top that! ;)

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  2. Thanks, Nik! Somehow I knew someone else had beaten me to it. Hope you've recovered from your trek -- it's a doozy!

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