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LHT Historic Site – Arctic Parkway

Arctic Parkway

The Story

The background story to the road in front of you, today known as Bergen Street, is part of our region’s ongoing love-hate relationship with highways. Believe it or not, Bergen Street was planned during the late 1920s as part of Arctic Parkway, a scenic thoroughfare that would have offered an alternate route between Princeton and Trenton. Parkways were America’s original solution to enjoyable automobile travel, intended as part park for leisurely Sunday drives and part uncongested, non-commercial commuter roads. New York’s Westchester County pioneered the concept with the Bronx River Parkway, constructed from 1906 to 1925, and other counties attempted to follow suit, usually with mixed results.
LHT Arctic Parkway Map
Click the image for details in Google Maps™
LHT Arctic Parkway Map

The Route

Mercer County planners proposed Arctic Parkway during the 1920s, laying out a route across farmland to the northwest of U.S. 206, bypassing Lawrenceville. Why they chose the name Arctic Parkway remains a mystery, but it may have commemorated the first sightings of the North Pole by air in 1926.

Lawrence Township Master Plan, 1966 (Lawrence Township Archives).

Arctic Parkway may have been one of New Jersey’s first proposed bypasses to stumble out of the block in the automobile age, but it would not be the last. Lawrence, Hopewell and other neighboring municipalities, lying slap in the middle of the Philadelphia-New York corridor, were in the crosshairs of transportation planners from an early date. Over the decades, alternative alignments for two U.S. 206 bypasses, I-95 and I-295 have all been charted across the terrain, with I-295 the only one reaching completion during the 1970s.

Transportation planning came of age in the 1930s and one of its main tools was traffic counting.

Traffic Counting Survey, circa 1940 (Department of Transportation Photographs, New Jersey State Archives).
LHT Arctic Pkwy Traffic Counting

Traffic Counting

From an early date, traffic counts showed volumes exceeding the capacity of the existing roads and congestion worsening. U.S. 206, which followed the colonial King’s Highway, and U.S. 1, which followed the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike of 1805, would never be up to the job. Slowdowns caused by local intersections and cars pulling into and out of driveways and parking lots were unavoidable on these old roads. Adding extra lanes upset adjacent property owners and only partially improved traffic flow.

LHT Arctic Parkway

The Factory

Only a short segment of Arctic Parkway was actually built and that was in Ewing. Since 1941, this has remained with us with the help of a celebrated ice cream factory.

Arctic Ice Cream, 1951 (Facebook/Arctic Ice Cream).

Lack of funding, combined with the onset of the Great Depression, was probably the main reason for Mercer County dropping the rest of the project. Bergen Street came much later, in the 1980s, a result of a developer following a gently curving street alignment surveyed decades prior for Arctic Parkway.

As early as 1947, the State of New Jersey projected the need for a limited-access interstate highway passing somewhere north or south of Lawrenceville, ultimately trending around Princeton and then on to Somerville or New Brunswick.

Freeway Model, circa 1960 (Department of Transportation Photographs, New Jersey State Archives).
LHT Historic Site Arctic Parkway

Freeway Model

The State produced models, maps and exhibits and held numerous hearings to promote the idea. Public and political opposition to the loss of private property, the damage to farms and the bypassing of small businesses was immediate and only grew in intensity with the environmental movements of the 1960s. To this day, I-295 follows a circular path around Trenton to connect with the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95 because of a missing link in the freeway system. One of the positive outcomes of the “highway war” was our region’s heightened appreciation for preserving open spaces and alternative modes of exploring them, like the LHT.

Continuing the Story

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This project: Funded by the FHWA Recreational Trails Program, through the NJDEP.
This sign: Content development by Hunter Research, Inc. Graphic design by Douglas Scott.

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