History or cash for Turnpike stops?

Historians in the News

Your poetry may be timeless, but as the name of a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop, your days may be numbered.

James Simpson, the new commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, is contemplating selling naming rights to the turnpike's rest stops as he scrambles for new revenue.

"The 'Nike Stop' . . . maybe that would be worth $10 million," Simpson said in a recent interview, pondering ways to wring more money out of turnpike concessions.

(It might also prompt a new verse of Kilmer's "Trees": I think that I shall never see/A rest stop lovely as Nike.)

The turnpike's 12 rest stops are named for historical figures who lived in New Jersey, from presidents (Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland) to poets (Kilmer and Walt Whitman). But there's not much money in marginally famous dead people - though Alexander Hamilton is memorialized on the $10 bill as well as the rest stop at southbound Mile 111....

Turnpike rest stops are utilitarian places, not eye-catching monuments to human endeavor, noted Howard Gillette, author and professor of history at Rutgers University in Camden. So maybe it's not so bad to lose the names.

They're different from bridges, which are "monumental presences and give identity to the region, like the Walt Whitman Bridge, Ben Franklin Bridge, or Betsy Ross Bridge," Gillette said.

"I wouldn't see it as a huge sacrifice to get more money by naming rest stops," he said.

"In some cases, like with Vince Lombardi" - whose stop is in Ridgefield Borough, Bergen County - "there is a generation that won't even know who it was. Many won't know who the poet [Joyce Kilmer] is....

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