New Jersey Roads - NJ 139/I-78

NJ 139 and I-78

NJ 139 exists almost entirely as a double roadway, upper (139U internally) and lower (plain 139). The freeway lower level is the one most people are familiar with, as it connects US 1-9 at the Tonnele Circle with the Holland Tunnel. The upper level doesn't connect well to the Tonnele Circle; heading WB, one must turn left at the end of 139U and then right, and to get to the EB upper level, motorists turn several times, none of which are marked - basically, it serves as local access to the Holland Tunnel. The EB upper level is directly atop the EB lower level, but the WB lower level sits in the median of the upper roadway, affording occasional glimpses of sunlight. The reason this page also belongs to I-78 is because once the Newark Bay Extension of the New Jersey Turnpike merges with NJ 139 Upper/Lower (which just merged, themselves), NJ 139 and I-78 run together into New York, where I-78 ends in a ball of counter-clockwise fury.

See that mess of construction, traffic signals, businesses (especially gas stations), and cars? That's I-78. And you can bet with the revenue generated by those gas stations, priced 30 cents or more less per gallon than those on the Manhattan side of the tunnel, this will never be a freeway.

What is this? It's Jersey City trying to be helpful, sending traffic from 16th St. along Jersey Ave. to NJ 139. Given the number of other destinations that NJ 139 serves besides US 1&9, I would bet this is incorrectly referencing 139 as 1&9.

These three signs definitely date from the construction of the Turnpike Extension in 1956. Note that an I-beam is used as a gantry pole for the second set of overheads, and that the signs consist of multiple metal panels for some reason. It almost appears that several panels were arranged together within a metal frame to complete the BGS. In the third picture, there were once neon tubes beneath TURNPIKE, an approximation of Turnpike Authority VMS's. In either case, US 1 and US 9, or US 1-9, is not being signed as the 139 freeway so much as it is being signed along what were the Business routes for the highways. First photo courtesy HNTB Corp., because that sign was taken down before I could get there in summer 2004. All of these are gone now in 2007.

Wide construction sign, put up in late 2005 on 14th St (NJ 139/I-78 WB) in anticipation of the reconstruction of the 139 viaduct.

Another I-beam for a gantry, another ancient set of signs that are gone in 2007. The KENNEDY BLVD. BGS actually points the way to NJ 139 Upper - no reason to sign it as anything if there's no intuitive through route up there. The central sign once read TRUCKS underneath the same US 1 and 9 shields that are on the left BGS, and a slightly larger arrow. Go to NJ 139 on Chris Mason's New Jersey Highway Ends page for a "before" photo. It's interesting that the Tonnele Circle exit was once signed this far east, but it was a good advance warning since traffic is practically on the Pulaski Skyway once it comes out from underneath 139U.

The reconstruction of the eastbound viaduct into 12th St. in Jersey City, with a standard construction template put to no good in creating US 139. There's not even a US 39, for crying out loud (and why not?). The two left lanes are closed (in 2007-08), which is good because the pavement has been stripped away and, for one section, the supporting framework as well. To reconstruct this 70-80 year old roadway while minimizing traffic issues nearing the Holland Tunnel, one eastbound lane of NJ 139 splits along the westbound viaduct, coming back at Jersey Ave. NJDOT retimed the signals to allow I-78 and NJ 139 to go at the same time, which wreaks havoc as people used to unlimited local access try to cut off cars as quickly and obnoxiously as possible (in some cases ignoring the barriers at Jersey Ave. and going across the two lanes of I-78 traffic). The correct way to get local access to the south from NJ 139 is to make the next left and then two more, for a reverse jughandle (same but mirrored for I-78 traffic heading north). It's easier to go south from the "cattle chute" (the wrong-way temporary lane on the westbound viaduct), but to go north, one must turn right just before 12th St. into the warehouse district of Coles St.

The matching US 139 in the WB direction.

See this sign? It's no longer mounted in public, so this is the only place you'll see this sign.

One of the only UPPER LEVEL reassurance banners. As you see in the background, all of the traffic signal signs just say plain NJ 139. There are fewer than half a dozen shields up there in total (I haven't counted), and I don't know how many others, if any, include the Upper reminder.

Here we are WB on NJ 139L underneath the upper level, where as I mentioned the WB lanes sit in the median of NJ 139U while the EB lanes are stacked. While this whole area is closing in on massive structural failure sooner or later, rebuilding is going to be a pretty miserable proposition. Maybe I-78 will get an extra lane each way to deal with traffic, so that this roadway can be closed entirely, torn down, and made into a proper depressed freeway with overhead frontage roads.

Entering the tunnel WB, you can see how old the underpass is from the crumbling concrete, not to mention that the architecture and material composition harken to days long gone.

Coming out of the tunnel, WB traffic got this lone advance warning for US 1-9 NB, and then a couple of shields at the exit itself. That was removed for reconstruction (as of 2015), so there was no warning at all. Of course, there's nothing saying NJ 139 ends, and only the next assembly tells you what it turns into:

The northern beginning of US 1-9 Truck is below at the Tonnele Circle, which this exit bypasses. Note that I-280 is signed here, but in order to get there you have to follow both NJ 7 and CR 508, neither of which is on this sign - and NJ 7 is an important freeway/expressway across the swamps. I-280 signage is consistent, though, along that route.

NJ 139U WB ends at CR 501, popularly known as JFK Blvd. There's a ramp a block away to Tonnele Circle, which this Alt. route seems to follow to the south, because otherwise there's really no way back to US 1-9 - so then why bother signing the Alt.? The NB route could go almost anywhere, although JFK makes a terrible alternative to US 1-9 because of all the local traffic and poorly timed traffic lights. The hilarious circle shield popped up sometime after 2007 and disappeared soon after I foudn it in 2011. A shame, because it's the only one that genuinely takes you down the ramp to US 1-9.

Coming off the Skyway past the first sign (or from Tonnele Circle and squinting up at it, in this case), to a remnant of when Business US 1 went this way (upper right hand corner), though the "BUSINESS" placard escapes even the memory of Bill Mitchell. Business US 1 died here in 1988, at the same time Alternate US 1 died in Trenton, in a minor state cleanup that saw a few other routes dropped like NJ 153; Business US 9 died many, many years ago. Business US 1 and 9 together went through New York City along the route originally followed by US 1 and 9 themselves. The overpass in the background is NJ 139's upper level.

Now that you've made it to the west end, click for a video to drive back east out of Tonnele Circle.

Bonus content for those who watched the video. Cover your eyes if you didn't. With the amount of traffic that needs to get to the Holland Tunnel, reconstruction of NJ 139U doesn't close the lower NJ 139, so here is a rare opportunity to see what NJ 139 looks like without a deck overhead. All of the bridges had to be taken out and the walls extensively repaired before brand-new bridges were put in. You may hear things about the condition of the Skyway when contemporaneous work started, but I think NJ 139 was worse. This is also your chance to see the 1929 construction plaque.

West to I-78/NJ Tpk. Newark Bay Extension
Back to I-78 main page

Into New York through the Holland Tunnel on I-78
Onto US 1-9
Onto US 1-9 Truck
Into Manhattan
See more of Jersey City
Into Hudson County
NJ 139 on Steve Anderson's
The Holland Tunnel on
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