As veteran commuters of Route 1 through the Princeton corridor can attest most of the major corporate and retail developments in the area have either been preceded by, or closely followed by, major roadway improvements.
Marketfair was accompanied by the Meadow Road overpass. The big building that now houses Blackrock went up after the Alexander Road overpass was completed. Princeton University even financed the College Road overpass in order to jump start the development of Princeton Forrestal Center.
James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, does not equivocate about the link between New Jersey’s prosperity and its transportation systems. “Every period of a boom was preceded by a major investment in transportation infrastructure,” he says, citing these mileposts along that road:
New Jersey had one of the first state highway departments in the nation, started in 1916 and paid for by a dedicated petroleum tax (an interesting fact, given today’s debate about whether a hike in the gas tax can save the Transportation Trust Fund). “By the 1920s and ‘30s, New Jersey and California had the finest state highway systems in America,” Hughes says.
After World War II New Jersey constructed two world class tolls roads — the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway.
In 1979 New Jersey Transit was formed to address statewide public transportation needs and by 1983 had taken over the state’s bankrupt train systems. It has seen such growth in ridership that, especially at rush hours, it is working near or at capacity.
Starting in 1996, the Midtown Direct extension of New Jersey Transit’s Morris & Essex line provided direct rail service from the north-central New Jersey suburbs into mid-town Manhattan through the construction of “the Kearny Connection,” which gave access for Morris & Essex trains to the Northeast Corridor tracks into Penn Station. “Residential markets went up, so the towns benefited from higher house values. Companies in New York City benefited from an availability of more well-educated workers.”
And between 2010 and 2012, the Turnpike was widened to a total of 12 lanes from Exit 9 near New Brunswick to the Exit 6 interchange with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. “At the time, it was the biggest road construction project in the country,” Hughes says.
Much of the building and leasing in business parks and fulfillment hubs near Exit 7A came in response to that construction. “Amazon has a 1 million square feet facility there which I’m sure they wouldn’t have built if the Turnpike hadn’t been widened in that area,” says Hughes, adding: “These are not the warehouses of old. They’re filled with high-tech equipment and have good-paying jobs.”