Jug Handles and You: A Practical Guide

There is a reason that Jersey drivers are the best in the country. Our traffic system forces us to be. Driving in Jersey is very much “learn and adapt, or die.” The majority of the country has highways that have only one name, have clearly marked exits, and when there is a left hand turn, the cars can actually turn left. Not here, though. Not for us. That would simply be too easy. Instead the NJDOT came up with the brilliant idea of the Jug-handle. Now it is true, that many other states use jug-handles, but no other states employs the use of jug-handles with such reckless abandon.

Theoretically, jug-handles ease congestion by removing stopped, turning vehicles from the roadway. With this in mind, the state of New Jersey went and built over six-hundred of these things.  However like most government projects, they never factored in the human element. And in case any of you haven’t noticed, the human element is unpredictable. Instead of easing congestion, we now have people slamming on their breaks because they missed their exit.

Think about it; if someone told you in all seriousness, “to turn left, you must make a right,” you would either think that you were speaking to a Native American mystic, or perhaps a special child who missed the short bus to class. In either situation, you would simply say, “Ok,” and be on your way, completely ignoring the encounter. However, this is exactly the logic behind a jug-handle. A jug-handle consists of an exit ramp on the right side of the highway that then loops around to form a left turn. When viewed from above, the roadway looks remarkably like a jug-handle. (Incredible, right?)

Surprisingly, jug-handles are a fairly recent addition to the NJ highway system. The first jug-handles were constructed on Rt.46 in Montville, US 22 in North Plainfield, and Rt. 35 at Monmouth Park Racetrack, during the late 50’s. This plays into my theory that the majority of jug-handles were built to confuse undercover Russian KGB Agents that might have been trying to infiltrate one of the military bases in our area during the Cold War.

The strange thing is that jug-handles are just small potatoes compared to the Cloverleaf. Imagine a teenage jug-handle in high school. He plays baseball and gets a scholarship to college. He makes it to the pros, but finds he can’t keep up with his teammates, and his lack of home-run power keeps him out of the limelight. So this honest little jug-handle goes on a steroid regiment that would make Jason Giambi cry. The resulting roid-monster would be a cloverleaf.

In a cloverleaf, left turns are handled by loop roads. To go left, vehicles first pass either over or under the other road, then turn right onto a one-way, three-fourths loop ramp, or merge onto the intersecting road. (Now aren’t you mad you didn’t pay attention in geometry class?) However, the Cloverleaf is a true Jersey native, with the first one being constructed in 1929 at the intersection of what was at the time Rt. 4 and Rt.25, now Rt. 1/9 and NJ35.

So next time you’re stuck in traffic because some jerk from Maryland or Delaware couldn’t figure out how to navigate a jug-handle because he wouldn’t believe his Garmin GPS telling him to make the right to go left, Just sit back and laugh at him, knowing he could never survive in the state of champions.

By ANJ Writer Dan Ferrara

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