New Jersey Jughandle Bill Seeks End of Left-Turn Oddity

The jughandle, a New Jersey highway oddity that forces drivers to turn right when they want to go left, would become a design relic under a lawmaker’s proposal.

New Jersey has at least 600 jughandles, more than any other U.S. state, according to Tim Greeley, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department. The turns were engineered to remove left-turning vehicles from higher-speed lanes and control the congestion approaching a traffic light. They send drivers on a right-hand exit, then onto a U-shaped stretch that ends at the intersection with the original road. Cars go straight across the road and continue on their way -- a three-step left turn.

While residents are long familiar with the “Jersey left,” the turns can confuse out-of-state drivers. Senator James Holzapfel, a 68-year-old Republican from Toms River, says it’s long past time to make them part of transportation history.

“It’s 2013: Why does New Jersey have this when in most of the country, you’re not going to find jughandles?” he said. “If you travel around the country, if it was such a good idea, other people would be putting in jughandles, and they’re not.”

Holzapfel, a lawmaker since 1994, first tried to ban construction of new jughandles 10 years ago, after too many 15-minute idles involving one between his law office and his home. An Assembly member at the time, he proposed a measure that failed, and he’s trying again this year. His bill passed the Senate Transportation Committee today by a vote of 5-0.

Michael Drewniak and Kevin Roberts, spokesmen for Governor Chris Christie, a first-term Republican seeking re-election, didn’t return e-mails seeking comment on jughandles.

Jersey Left

The traffic design has existed in New Jersey for at least 50 years, according to a 2007 study by the Federal Highway Administration. Greeley said the state is often credited as the jughandle’s birthplace, though he had no proof of that.

“Certainly they are more common than in any other state we’re aware of,” Greeley said.

Holzapfel said the concept was outdated, like the traffic circle, whose first U.S. appearance was in Pennsauken, New Jersey, in 1925, according to Greeley. From a peak of more than 100, the state now has about 20 circles, with eliminations forced by higher volume and safety needs.

Greeley said the department hasn’t taken a position on Holzapfel’s bill.

Traffic Confusion

For uninitiated drivers, the concept may confuse, if not terrify.

“Unfortunately it’s going to be a little baptism by fire,” said Jeffrey Spicer, 49, owner of Spicer’s Driving School in Roebling. The risks are great even for students who grew up in New Jersey’s suburbs, familiar with not-so-direct routes to schools, soccer games and shopping.

“You’ve just got to be aware of that person who’s going to -- bam! -- slam on the brakes and turn on a turn signal,” Spicer said. “You can almost guarantee it’s going to be out-of-state plates on that car and if an officer pulls them over, they’ll have no idea you can’t do that.”

Though the jughandle may aggravate, it remains a useful tool, according to Gilbert Chlewicki, 35, a Baltimore-based professional engineer who specializes in traffic movement.

“On a highway, the left lane can be the fast lane, and drivers can expect to maintain that high speed,” he said by phone Feb. 1. “It’s important to keep an open mind and not reject something just because you don’t like it. You have to look at cost, safety, efficiency. It’s a very big perspective.”

The senator, in his proposed legislation, isn’t asking for jughandles to disappear. The bill seeks to prohibit new construction, though it offers no alternatives.

It also doesn’t address the conclusion in the Federal Highway Administration report: Among intersections with similar volumes, traffic moves faster through those with jughandles than those without.