Answer: Because New Jersey made the best ones, of course!
I recently came across an article on the history of the “New Jersey Median Barrier” and it was a pretty interesting read. I’ve always called those concrete highway dividers Jersey Barriers but I never really knew why. Even in other states I’ve lived, they’ve always been Jersey Barriers.
So, it turns out that it’s not a dig on our fine state which is what I kind of assumed. You know the stereotype… NJ is all Turnpike and Parkway… What exit do you live off of… along those lines.
Here’s the real scoop. The median barrier is defined as a “tapered concrete barrier that is used in many narrow highway medians, to prevent vehicle crossovers into oncoming traffic.” In the 1940s and 1950s many states tried making their own concrete barriers because a standard type had not been established. The earliest known median barrier was on US-99 south of Bakersfield, California on a steep descent down the side of the Tehachapi Mountains. It was designed to minimize the need for maintenance on a very narrow median and to help out of control trucks stay out of oncoming traffic. The earliest known median barrier in New Jersey is from 1955 and was only 18 inches tall and looked like a short wall with curbs on both sides.
NJ didn’t do any kind of crash-testing on these first prototypes, they just put them out there and then reviewed the crash statistics after awhile. So, through trial and error, they ended up with our current barriers. The article says:
Operational problems were observed, the shape was changed, and the height was increased to 24 inches, and to 32 inches in 1959. The commonly seen shape came into being then. Basically, going upward, the first 2 inches from the pavement rises vertically, the next 10 inches rises at a 55-degree angle, and the remainder at an 84-degree angle (as measured from horizontal). … The basic reason for the New Jersey profile is to redirect a vehicle that hits it. The vehicle’s wheels and sheet metal on the impacting side ride upward to prevent vehicle rollover.
There are a few other shapes used but Jersey Barriers continue to be the most popular and well-tested barriers out there.
Another credit to our state for increasing road safety all over the country!
Read more on New Jersey Median Barrier History.
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