It may not be the oldest modern turnpike in the country, but the New Jersey Turnpike has earned that place in American culture that few other roads achieve. Its design innovations guided a generation of highway engineers as early design work began on the Interstate highway system, and even today the turnpike meets the challenges of the 21st century.
The New Jersey Turnpike has two different personalities:
North of the Raritan River, the turnpike is "strictly business." Industrial parks, distribution facilities, generating stations and refineries mark the northerly 35 miles or so of the turnpike, almost always within view of the Manhattan skyline. Dual roadways in each direction separate passenger cars from larger vehicles, helping to not only ease congestion, but also to ensure a safer, less aggravating drive.
South of the Raritan River, the turnpike traverses a more pastoral environment, though increasing suburbanization is blurring the separation between the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas. As a result, the southerly stretches of turnpike have become more congested, particularly where the car and truck lanes merge south of EXIT 8A (NJ 32) and along the remaining four-lane stretch between EXIT 1 (Delaware Memorial Bridge) and EXIT 4 (NJ 73).
Design standards on the turnpike were ahead of their time (e.g., long acceleration-deceleration lanes, long sight distances, highly visible signing), but are standard practice on today's superhighways. However, the turnpike has very few curves, which can lead to driver drowsiness. The practice of designing "long and straight" highways was abandoned in the ensuing years.
The pavement is in excellent condition, and aside from the threat from aggressive drivers, the turnpike is a very safe road. However, the signing could use some updating, and could be improved at the interchange toll plazas. I would even suggest that the turnpike switch to a mileage-based exit numbering system, but that may be sacrilegious to Garden Staters.
One recent and significant development has been the opening of high-speed (55 MPH) EZ-Pass lanes at the northern and southern termini of the turnpike. This means that motorists now can travel from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the George Washington Bridge without having the stop at a toll plaza, thereby cutting congestion and air pollution.