The ACL Guide to the Pulaski Skyway.

One of the founding tenets of ACL was to give a voice to the little guys, to the under appreciated things that perform a great service everyday without any recognition. It is with this in mind that I turn your attention to one of the world’s greatest and often overlooked roadways, the General Pulaski Skyway, the world’s first “super highway.” ACL has a rich tradition of highlighting some of the tri-state’s greatest roadways (not really but it amuses me to say things like this), the Merritt Parkway comes to mind as a perennial favorite. In truth, ACL doesn’t really cover highways very often because it is a pretty random concept. It turns out that this is really only the second such post on a road, and many would argue that the Pulaski Skyway is overlooked for a reason, or a whole host of reasons.

While everyone can agree that the Merritt Parkway is a fun and scenic road to drive, the Pulaski Skyway is probably a tougher sell. I have been literally wondering about the hulking iron structure since the first time I took the three and a half mile trip through the North Jersey industrial corridor and on across the Hackensack and Passaic rivers. I fly out of Newark’s Liberty International airport often, which is a trip that requires a journey over the Pulaski Skyway. Almost every run-in with the Pulaski has led me to say to myself: “I need to do some research on this strange series of bridges and elevated highways that carries me through the swamps and across this North Jersey industrial battlefield.” I’m strange, I know.

Eventually one day I was bored enough to actually go through with finding out more on this depression era bridge-roadway-thing. What I discovered was likely more than anyone ever needs to know about a single bridge. It turns out a guy named Steven Hart actually wrote an entire book about the Pulaski Skyway called The Last Three Miles, which quickly became required reading for me. The book is pretty interesting for a few hundred pages about a boring bridge in a swamp. It talks in detail about the great difficulty in getting from Newark to Jersey City dating back to the 1700s. Apparently, the whole swamp / horse and buggy thing was murder (Hackensack Plank Road is named such, because it was literally made of planks across the Meadowlands swamps – sounds terrible). Apparently, teams of horses would have to pause in Newark to “blood up” in preparation of the onslaught of mosquitoes that the final push up to Jersey City. Seems shit was pretty intense before the state of New Jersey finally got around to building this thing. The real impetus behind the “Skyway” was the completion of the Holland Tunnel in 1927. Before the 1&9 and the Pulaski Skyway, massive amounts of traffic just dumped out onto the dilapidated Jersey City streets with nowhere to go. Getting from Jersey City to Newark, even in the late 1920s, was a three hour affair.

These days my trips across the Pulaski are punctuated with me spouting boring facts about how each rivet was done by hand, and about how the Army Corps of Engineers basically came into the design process at the 25th hour and derailed a whole lot of engineering work done by a whole bunch of grizzled old railroad men just to ensure that the rivers were passable and shipping lanes unobstructed. I also learned that General Casimir Pulaski is a the Polish Count and revolutionary war era father of he American Calvary – a satisfying but still puzzling bit of knowledge. Why the roadway is named after him? That’s a question I could not answer.

The one thing that the Pulaski does share with the Merritt is the fact that both are a helluva a lot of fun to drive. This is still true today because both predate the modern U.S. highway system, both fast and furious roadways and both are pretty unsafe. The Pulaski is basically the most dangerous road within a few hundred miles, if not the entire Eastern Seaboard. It’s not pretty, but it sure does have an interesting story.

Comments on “The ACL Guide to the Pulaski Skyway.

    enzo the baker on October 4, 2012 5:45 PM:

    the first, and last word in automotive mayhem on the east coast: taconic.

    christopher on October 4, 2012 8:22 PM:

    man. I drive that road every day and every day I think I’m going to be killed. Well, either killed or stuck in an extra hour of traffic because of a disabled vehicle.

    Chris on October 4, 2012 10:09 PM:

    Absolute love the post, drove this last week and did not appreciate the backstory. 1. The Pulaski Skyway could not have been captured more beutifully in its current state than in the opening credits to The Sopranos every week, a true diamond in an industrial rough. 2. Looking forward to your review of the Natchez Trace Parkway, 400+ miles of breathtaking automotive utility. 3. No excuse for someone from Cleveland (of all places!) not to know how to spell ‘cavalry.’ Calvary was where people were literally crucified, and why your childhood Mark Price jersey did not read ‘Calvs’ the across chest.

    JRThom on October 5, 2012 1:00 AM:

    This was a fantastic post. I love the name skyway, I don’t know of any other roads that are called that. I’ve seen cars disabled on the skyway, and I feel terrified for them when they’re changing their tire.

    I’ve always wondered why Paterson Plank Road was called that. It turns out that route dates back to the colonial era. There were apparently a handful of plank roads in the area.

    jordan w on October 5, 2012 2:23 AM:

    Excellent- these old bridges, ships and monuments (like Rushmore) usually turn out to have correspondingly unique, obsessed, and cool stories/people, behind them.

    cooldad on October 5, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Great post. I think about how unsafe that crossing is every time I travel it.

    I remember being that guy that stopped a whole lane of traffic on the Skyway when my car died many years ago. Someone eventually pushed me to a gas station with their pickup. Busted my taillights, but it was worth it to escape the angry mob.

    ChrisN on October 5, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Great post. When I lived in Jersey City I was on the Pulaski Skyway quite a bit and found it historically interesting and just a beautiful industrial structure. I look forward to seeing it or driving on it every trip to NY I take.

    Jonathan on October 5, 2012 1:55 PM:

    Love this post. Used to go by this with my grandparents when I was a kid and thought it was a really strange thing. It has a dark, almost abandoned look to it.

    Peter V on October 5, 2012 10:46 PM:

    as an engineer, this is easily one of my favorite posts. now i have to drive it.

    AstorC on October 6, 2012 7:23 AM:

    Who knew?

    There’s a portion of the Skyway that traverses one of the myriad of rivers below. And on that particular rivulet is a shipyard where they dragged the hulk of one of the last remaining WWII carriers (the Enterprise? if my memory serves). Over the course of months you could watch them slowly dissemble this once glorious ship from high atop the Skyway. Somehow a metaphor for what was happening to the city at the time…

    KS on October 8, 2012 11:16 AM:

    Great post. Having grown up in NJ and lived in Hoboken for a number of years I’ve spent many an hour on the Pulaski. You definitely cross your fingers every time you get close to it, both hoping that it won’t finally give out while you’re on it and also hoping that there isn’t someone with a flat tire/conked out engine stalling up an entire lane (no shoulders on the Pulaski). They’ve actually been doing a bunch of work on it the past 2 years or so, basically looks like a “reinforcement” type of job. Ocassionally still though you’ll see craters the size of small cars open in random spots across the bridge. All that being said it’s still just about the only way to get to the city other than Rt 3/Lincoln Tunnel, so I’ll continue to traverse it. Interesting sidenote: There was plans back in the early 1900’s to build a bridge from Manhattan that connected right to the middle of Hoboken. There’s even a concrete slab in a Hoboken backyard today where the bridge was supposed to officially touchdown. Apparently it got nixed due to raucous opposition from the Hoboken population that the traffic/construction/and pollution would do more harm than good.

    Tommy G on October 9, 2012 11:01 PM:

    Great post! Living here makes me love and loath the Pulaski Skyway. Oddly they didn’t come up with an official name until after it opened. Why did they name it after Pulaski? Well it seems Revolutionary War heroes are always popular to name things after. Pulaski trained our cavalry and was killed in Savannah, GA fighting against the British. Eugene W. Hejke, an Assemblyman in my home town of Jersey City, was Polish. Revolutionary war hero plus Polish equals Pulaski. He proposed the name to the Jersey Legislature. They agreed.

    James on October 10, 2012 5:13 PM:

    Great post. ” ACL has a rich tradition of highlighting some of the” most interesting elements of modern day things – past and present! That’s not really amusing – it’s complimentary of the thought-provoking things you write about.

    Rod on October 23, 2012 6:23 PM:

    Keep the windows rolled up- the smell will take 10 years off of your life.

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