Richard Nisley

The Pulaski Skyway
History - American Released - Feb 10, 2019
It was designated as the highway of the future. And yet when the future arrived, the Pulaski Skyway as it was known, was obsolete. Author Steven Hart, in his page-turner of a book THE LAST THREE MILES, writes, "The Skyway will easily stand for another eighty years–a highway of the future that instantly transformed into an antique . . . A failure rooted not in recklessness, but in a lack of background knowledge."

The designers and planners did not lack for engineering knowhow nor did they lack the necessary public funds. They faced a monumental task in moving traffic from the Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, to the New Jersey interior, traffic that was congesting the streets of Jersey City and various cities and towns along the Jersey Shore. It was a problem they did not fully understand how to solve and acted hastily in building a bridge that spanned two rivers and the vast Meadowlands, a bridge better suited to the railroad than to cars and trucks. The erratic traffic patterns entering the bridge resulted in a number of fatalities, earning the sobriquet, "Death Alley."

A police officer described the Skyway thusly: "It's probably the most dangerous highway ever built, because you enter and exit on the fast lane. It's a great straightaway. There's no place for police to hide, so everyone's just taking off."

The Pulaski Skyway was built in the heroic age of large public works–works that included the Golden Gate Bridge in California, and in New York the Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge.

The crucial link was a 13-mile extension of Route 1 from Elizabeth, New Jersey that would funnel traffic from points south and west of Manhattan right to the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, and help disperse the flood tide of west-bound cars and trucks that daily exited the tunnel and clogged the narrow, crowded streets of Jersey City.

Most of the work on the highway extension had already been completed by the time the Depression set in. The final and most crucial portion was a roughly three-mile stretch ("The Last Three Miles" of the book's title) of elevated highway that would connect the outskirts of Newark with the edge of Jersey City. Writes the author: "This would become the visual keynote of a new kind of road that required a new word to describe it: superhighway. Building it would take two years, fifteen lives, $21 million, a labor war, and a murder trial that marked the turning point in the long reign of America's most powerful and ruthless political bosses."

America's first superhighway was at first known by several names: Meadowlands Viaduct, Diagonal Highway, High-Level Viaduct, until they settled on Pulaski Skyway, in 1933, after a Polish folk hero and general, Casimir Pulaski.

To quote the author the bottom line is this: "the Pulaski Skyway is a milestone in the early history of America's effort to cope with the rise of automobile . . . It is also a monumental failure."

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