Politicians generally aren’t known as going against the status quo, but one is moving in that direction in an effort to stop jughandles, which he blames for gridlock at hundreds of intersections in his state.
New Jersey state senator James Holzapfel has introduced a bill that would prohibit the construction of more of these intersections in the Garden State. He’s been pushing for this for 10 years. Now the matter is set to come before the full Senate after clearing the Senate Transportation Committee, which he is a member of.
New Jersey is well known for jughandles, which change how left turns are made at intersections. Most work by forcing traffic to use a ramp on the right side of the road, past the intersection where a driver is wanting to turn left, with the ramp coming out onto the street where the driver is wanting to go -- otherwise known as having to turn right in order to turn left.
In an interview with WCBS-AM in New York City, Holzapfel explained that traffic has gotten to a point of such high volume, jughandles are often backed up with traffic, causing gridlock at the intersection and blocking the way of other vehicles.
“Talk to an 18-wheeler driver or commercial bus [driver] and he’s going to tell you the worst thing about the state is having to use those things to get across intersections,” he said.
In other words, they may have been a good idea when traffic congestion was not a problem, but not such a good one now.
He went on to say his legislation would not do away with existing jughandles, only prohibit building more of them. Holzapfel cited places that have three lanes of traffic heading in each direction, along with two turn lanes, and computerized traffic signal technology at intersections, that are safer and less costly than jughandles, which he said often require the state to purchase additional property to build them because of their size.
However, not everyone agrees that jughandles are bad. According to published reports, the NJ DOT believes jughandle intersections are good at preventing traffic from backing up on roadways. Supporters of such intersections say they improve highway safety because they remove left-turning vehicles from travel lanes and they provide more space for left-turning vehicles, among other reasons.
Recent polls show that residents in the state, as well as those next door to New Jersey, overwhelming support jughandles. However, the senator counters by saying those who are from out of state and have never seen such intersections are often confused.
With a new report from Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute showing traffic congestion in the nation continues to worsen, plus states and the federal government saying for a long time more money is needed for highway projects to reduce backups, maybe the better thought is to look more at how traffic is moved across the country rather than just throwing additional money at road expansion projects.
Improving inefficient intersections and using newer technology to control traffic signals, just to name a couple of items, can be far less costly than simply adding more lanes to roadways. Unfortunately, politicians, who control the purse strings, and who like to get their picture in the newspaper and on TV so much, such ideas aren’t as sexy as new roads and bridges, and don’t garner as much media attention.
Holzapfel may not get his picture in the paper or on TV if his bill passes and is signed into law, but at least he is doing something different and to stop, as New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen sang in Born to Run, “The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.”