Warren Levinson: Slow Dancing on the Old Swamp Road

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Driving from my house to Manhattan means crossing five rivers: the Third, the Passaic, Berry’s Creek, the Hackensack and the Hudson. Getting across the Third can be a bitch if I happen to hit it on a rainy day when parents are dropping their kids off at the middle school, but the only one I really think about is the Hudson.

Catch the Lincoln Tunnel at the right time and the rest of the trip will take care of itself.

Or at least it used to be, before the reconstruction of Route 3 and its bridges started in earnest a couple of years ago. Now an easy ride through the tunnel on the westbound ride no longer presages getting home when dinner is still warm. Going east, the radio traffic reports (usually outdated anyway, unless Helicopter Man is eyeballing your route Right Now) cover the backup at the tunnel, but rarely deign to take note of what’s doing on lowly Route 3.

But while we struggle with the backups and seek out new routes, we are starting to get a look at the shape of the Route 3 of the future. A few observations:

‘Bye, ‘bye, drawbridge. The Passaic River span, which hadn’t been raised in decades, is being replaced with a fixed bridge right from under us. The concrete bridge tender’s booth was blasted away a while back. But what is that gazebo-like structure on a mound overlooking the northwest corner of the bridge?

Route 3 is getting the kind of sound barrier walls increasingly common on urban highways. For Secaucus and Rutherford residents with homes right along the highway, traffic whizzing by day and night can’t be the pleasantest sight and sound. Is a blank wall better?

These walls have something I’ve never seen before on this kind of construction: rectangular windows running along the top, presumably to let in more light. But how regularly do you think they’ll get cleaned?

After making this trip for more than 20 years, I thought I knew all the alternate routes. I didn’t. If you can make it to 17 north, local roads in Rutherford and Passaic make a decent workaround. The turnpike north to 80 and the Parkway is a lot of extra miles, but it beats sitting in traffic when an accident slows everything down. Motorists are still having trouble figuring out the bifurcated bridge over the Hackensack and crash there regularly.

Before I saw the plans, I thought this was a project designed to smooth and beautify (Beautify! The phrase lipstick on a pig comes to mind) Route 3 in time for the 2014 Super Bowl at Met Life Stadium. Now I realize this thing has been 10 years in the making. Which means the Super Bowl is just a blip in the drive to haul this 1940s road into the 21st century. If we’re lucky, the improvements will be done in time for global climate change to raise the water table in the Meadowlands to guard-rail level.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Valley to VanHouten. Van houten to the end, cross over River Rd. then over the Passaic River, take Union to West Erie and voila your at the Meadows. Not as bad as it seems.

  2. NJ Transit 193/197 etc buses coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel (LT) often get radio messages telling them to take Turnpike to 80 to W’brook in preference to 3 to 46, etc. It’s pretty close to real time, probably from buses stuck ahead.

    Inbound buses are sometimes directed to leave the LT approach ramp and take the local streets to the tunnel. There’s lot of information in the system.

    There’s no reason why NJ DOT can’t program some of their overhead LED signs with “LT via NJ 3 = 20 min” and “LT via NJTPK = 27 min”.They already give that info for Upper and Lower levels at the GWB

  3. Warren – while you probably cross the Third River about 4 times on your way into Manhattan, those crossings would most likely be on the GSP (3) and Route 3(1), and are usually barely noticeable (There is a sign at the Route 3 crossing – I don’t remember seeing any on the GSP).

    I’m guessing the body of water you are describing is Toney’s Brook in Glen Ridge, which is a tributary of the Second River.

  4. I see people taking the bus during prime commuting hours and I wonder: (a) are they pathologically cheap, and somehow the bus is 30 cents cheaper than the train; (b) are they just extraordinarily lazy, and take the bus because it saves them a 5 block walk on the other end or (c) are they suffering from some kind of mental problem.

    Seriously. You couldn’t pay me $25 a trip to go to the city on DeCamp commuting hours.

    Yes, I realize it’s a great way of getting into the city on Sunday morning, and can get you home in 39 minutes at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

  5. I take the 193 to/from Willowbrook. In the mornings it’s fine (well, for the bus that leaves the mall at 6:20 it’s fine). But in the evenings, as Paolo wrote, during the height of the rush all the express buses that leave from gate 233 take 95 to 80.

    yougottalovehim: From the Caldwells, it really makes no sense to take the train unless you drive to a stop farther down the line. Our options from Montclair State or (worse!) from the station at the Rte 23 park & ride are terrible–only about one train an hour goes straight to Penn; all the others make you transfer someplace. The morning ride from Willowbrook is 30 minutes. The morning train, which I took when buses weren’t running due to floods or blizzards, took almost twice as long thanks to those umptyzillion local stops. And thank goodness for cross-honouring, because the train costs a good deal more than the bus.

    And as for DeCamp, yuck. Definitely not a good option from West Caldwell. Worse than the train for sure. I’ll keep my NJT 193 commute!

  6. Gosh, I was luckey to side-step these kind of commutes. 15 years on Springfield Avenue in Maplewood and 15 years on Route 10, in Livingston, and 3 years on Chancellor Ave in Maplewood. No Bus or train time tables…
    Those kind of commutes add to the stress factor !

  7. I’m so glad that Warren brings up the topic of Rte 3. Its like an Elephant in the room of my life! The big problem is there, but we just don’t talk about it because there is really nothing you can do about it. I can never be sure if I’m going to get to a NY appointment in time….or 2.5 hours late. Sometimes driving home at night, it only takes 30 mins. The deCamp stagecoach service only used to take one hour from Baristaville to the Hoboken ferries for Manhattan….now it can take MUCH longer. A lot more people from NYC visit me here because we organize with the PATH Train Service at Penn Station in Newark. I go get them or drop them off by car and this is what works best lately. Rte 3 and the tunnels have reached their functional obsolescence with respect to the volume of traffic that they have to handle.
    Believe it or not, we have a historic connection with Rte 3. The ferry crossing land in Rutherford and ferry service are outlined in General Nathaniel Crane’s 1831 will. He bequeathed this property to James Howe, the manumitted slave who also was granted a six acre Upper Mountain Avenue property that included the “Freed Slave House”. James How(e) descended from an English family that came to this area along with Robert Treat in the 1600s. The Howe family are amongst the original founders of Llewellyn Park and were prominent farm real estate developers, along with the Crane Family in Montclair. James Howe owned six acres on Upper Mountain Ave, the site of an important train tunnel project that got flooded out when they struck a vein of water from Toney’s Brook. Another Howe farm property became the workers housing neighborhood (for Thomas Edison’s factory workers) between the Stonebridge neighborhood of Montclair and Llewellyn Park.
    Rutherford became a riverside resort in the early 1800s and the site of the Rte 3 bridge on the Passaic River, was the grounds of a famous luxury resort destination, The Park Hotel. Rutherford became a resort development of fine ornamental victorian vacation homes and country estates. (like Ivison Castle, that became Fairleigh Dickenson) This all failed due to the pollution of the Passaic River, caused by the industrial revolution in Patterson. (originally most of Rutherford belonged to the Kipp Farm….the same family of Kipps Castle, Montclair) Llewellyn Haskell, who’s estate was on the river, fled to West Bloomfield (Montclair) because his wife and children died from illness cause by the polluted water. He founded Llewellyn Park and considered Montclair and the environs “the new health resort” since Rutherford became so polluted and unhealthy. My worst Rte 3 moment was when there was an electrical storm one night, and all of us motorists got struck by a bolt of lightening!

  8. FrankGG….If you ever decide to give walking tours of Baristaville & environs, let us know. I would rather do this then a party. Would love to see where that tunnel is on Upper Mtn.

  9. Thanx PAZ!!! I would gladly do walking tours as a community service or for local charity if anyone would like to organize something like that. The opening of the tunnel is just north of 24 Upper Mountain Avenue, at the MKA Soccer field. It has been covered up, but you can see a bump and thats a culvert where the water from Toney’s Brook flows out of the mountain….when I was a schoolboy, there was a big cavelike opening.

  10. Dear FrankGG, thank you thank you! I just love reading your historical posts! You are a storyteller, and you make it so intriguing!

    Do you know whether it’s true that there is/was an underground railroad stop in that same general area of the MKA soccer field?

  11. It would make total sense to me that this was a very stratigic passage point that used the construction site of the train tunnel (from under the Freed Slave House (James Howe House) as a way to pass under the toll booth check point that was at Bloomfield Avenue at Crane’s Gap (at the top of the mountain). The Underground Railroad was all about connecting the dots of safe house locations. We know that the Morris Canal was part of the underground railroad, and from the Davis Homestead,(abolitionists) (Now the Bloomfield Steak House)there was a revolutionary war tunnel that went up to the Crane Homestead (abolitionists) at Claremont Ave and Valley Road…. There was also the Bloomfield Avenue Stagecoach that stopped were MKA is, near to the opening of the train Tunnel. The train tunnel was to go to Boonton, and Boonton was another stratigic Underground Railroad point. The toll booths were monitered by evil groups like the Copperheads…who were out to get free black people to prevent them from getting jobs in factories or on NJ farms. James Howe, a manumitted slave, owned the property at Upper Mountain Ave, where the tunnel began….(and also the ferry baot landing at Rutherford) and at the same time, another, a prominent Montclair farm real estate developer Howe (abolitionists that were descendants of Scottish 1600s immigrant James Howe) was an engineer, specializing in trains…CONNECT THE DOTS!!!!

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