It's as much a Garden State tradition as turkey and pumpkin pie: the annual gridlock of New Jersey Turnpike traffic for Thanksgiving. For years, travelers have endured backups 15 miles or longer the Wednesday before the holiday, and then the following Sunday.
But the just completed turnpike widening program added truck lanes for 35 miles in the hopes of ending that less than joyous ritual. The new lanes run from Exit 6 where it meets the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Exit 9 near New Brunswick. It took five years and $2.5 billion to build, so how much will that alleviate long delays and short tempers?
Turnpike authority spokesman Tom Feeney is cautiously optimistic that the 40-minute average delay is a thing of the past.
"Somebody going from, say, Cherry Hill to Woodbridge should have been able to spend about 50 minutes on the Turnpike but because of delays through that corridor, that trip would have taken about an hour and a half, so we're hopeful that this year those drivers get that 40 minutes back," he said.
Just off Exit 8, almost in the shadow of the new northbound lanes, Yogi Kumar manages the Crowne Plaza Hotel. He used to get holiday travelers taking pit stops for rest rooms, food, and even saying overnight to get away from the mess. But from what he's seen so far, the project is working.
"It used to be a 10, 15, 20-mile backup every Friday after 12 o'clock, and for the last couple of weeks we haven't seen any problems, since the highway opened," said Kumar.
A spokeswoman for AAA says many of an estimated one million New Jerseyans will drive the new lanes this week. Tracy Noble also says the traffic volume will be a "good test" of the project.