From 1997 to 1999, road fan Jon Persky attended Brown University in Providence and spent time at his mother's house in Wethersfield, Conn., near Hartford.
He writes, "This was a corridor I traveled pretty frequently, and since there is no obvious route - the original I-84 is permanently scrapped in that area - I began experimenting with different routes on both a time and asthetic level. '44 Ways', in homage to US44 which links the two cities, is an attempt to catalog the myriad of sensible ways of making this trip. I abandoned this project several years ago, but I was able to dredge 12 distinct entries from text that I was saving for a webpage."
In July 1998 he made his plans public, promising to misc.transport.road readers "Coming soon: 101 Ways to Go From Hartford to Providence." (Route 101, which crosses from Connecticut into Rhode Island, is another popular east-west route).
By August, this had become "44 Ways," and briefly in late August was billed as "Coming Soon: Twelve Completely Different Ways to Get from Hartford to Providence." By September, the number of routes had returned to 44. In 1999, the idea was quietly abandoned.
In January 2002, Jon generously offered to share what he had written so far: "A couple of years ago I started setting up my first roadgeek website, '44 ways to get from Hartford to Providence.' It's long been abandoned - I have since moved to Chicago, then Maryland, then Boston - but if anyone is interested I can post the text of the first 12 or so routes that I mapped out."
Well heck yeah I was interested, and the same day he posted what you see below. It's great. Thanks, Jon!
In the early 1980's, the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island acquiesced that the proposed eastern leg of Interstate 84, a freeway extending from Hartford, CT to Providence, RI would never be built due to environmental and other concerns. Following this decision, Interstate 84 was rerouted on the path of the old Interstate 86, extending northeast, rather than east, from the Hartford area to connect with the Massachussetts Turnpike near Sturbridge. The original eastern leg of I-84, completed only up to about 15 miles east of downtown Hartford, was renumbered I-384. Today signs at the 84/384 split mislead unknowing travelers to "Boston" (84) and "Providence" (384). Of course, the true destinations of these highways are "Sturbridge" (84) and "Bolton" (384).
Four interstate-standard segments of the Hartford to Providence corridor exist today: The 9-mile freeway from East Hartford to Bolton, originally I-84 and currently I-384; the 6 mile infamous "middle of nowhere" segment of US 6 from Willimantic to Windham; the 4-mile extension of the Connecticut Turnpike (unsigned CT 695) which serves as a bypass of US 6 from I-395 at Danielson to the Rhode Island border at Killingly; and the US 6 freeway which connects I-295 in Johnston to downtown Providence. From Providence, the Hartford-Providence corridor continues eastward along Interstate 195 and serves travelers heading to Cape Cod. It's an interesting conundrum among travelers of this route: from Hartford you can get to Boston, New Haven, and New London directly without having to leave a freeway; you can similarly get to Boston, New Haven, and New London from Providence without having to leave a freeway. Yet the freeway route from Hartford to Providence is anything but a straight line. Strange? Welcome to New England.
One of the hidden benefits to not having a direct freeway between these two state capitals is that nobody can ever give you funny looks for trying out a different way to go. And so, for the benefit of roadgeeks everywhere, I present "44 Ways To Get from Hartford to Providence." This list includes routes that make perfect sense along with those that don't. It attempts to separate the scenic from the ugly and the congested from the wide-open. As someone who makes this trip often, I think I've done all of these in the list. And no, the list is not in any particular order.
The following highways can be said to connect to Hartford for the purposes of this list: I-84, I-91, US 5, US 6, US 44, CT 2, and CT 15; and for Providence: I-95, I-195, US 1, US 6, US 44, and RI 146. That said, here goes.
For time, distance, and overall driving pleasure, this is the preferred route, yet one that is not frequently used. Start with I-84 east to exit 69; this is about a 20-mile jog on I-84 but the route is almost exactly due east from there. Signed as "CT 74 TO US 44", CT74 is a wooded two-lane stretch and terminates without any fanfare at US44 in the middle of nowhere. US44 continues east as a mainline two-lane road much like US6 through this region. US44 heads northeast around Abington; CT 101 is advertised on the signage as the route to Providence from there. RI 101 ends at the US6 Bypass. This route took me less than 90 minutes; I haven't yet found a faster way. (See below for more detailed descriptions of Routes 6 and 101 in Rhode Island.)
I84 E - I384 E - US 6 E - US 6 BYP E - US 6 E
This is the most popular route among travelers and is accomplished in a slightly higher amount of time as #1 above -- approximately 90 miles and 100 minutes of travel.
Start with I-84 eastbound to exit 59, where I-384 splits off in two lanes. Note the "Boston" and "Providence" controls on the overhead signs. I-384 continues for about 11 miles and is three to four lanes across the whole way, a completely unnecessary waste of pavement since it is rarely congested. There are five numbered exits in all, and the highway ends in Bolton, with US6 signed for Willimantic and Providence, and US44 signed for Mansfield and Coventry. DOT initally wants you to take Suicide 6, although once on US44 it assumes by the distance signs and routing that you intended to go to Providence anyway. Weird.
The stretch of US6 between I-384 and the lone US6 freeway is called "Suicide 6," referring to the high accident rate in that region. It's not actually that bad, but I imagine that most of the safety considerations have to do with the large volumes of commercial vehicles that rely on this two-lane stretch with multiple curves signed at 45 mph. The short freeway at Willimantic is more interesting as a matter of politics than engineering. It serves little purpose, bypassing a stretch of old US6 (now CT 66). It was installed, alledgedly, as an incentive to gain funding to complete the freeway corridor. Still, this route and US44 to CT101 (See #8 below) are the two suggested routes to Providence, according to DOT signage.
In Scituate, RI, US6 forks again, one side winding through the small town and the other, marked "Bypass US 6," following the shoreline of the swamp. Note the "Weigh Station" that has had all its fixtures removed; this is the only weigh station I've ever seen on a two-lane road. Still, even though there is nothing to suggest that there ever was a weigh station there, the signs are still up in both directions.
At Johnston, the final bypass of US 6 occurs. The freeway extending from I-295 to I-95 is signed as US 6, with its older route signed US 6A. I imagine that it is the eastern end of the proposed I-84, but major upgrading would have to have been necessary to smooth the hairpin turns and lane changes near the merge with RI 10 in Cranston. In fact, you must merge from the right lane into the left lane four separate times in order to follow US6 to I-95. The whole thing is signed 50 MPH and the cops like to screw you every chance they get. Fortunately, the traffic court won't process your case for another three years or so.
CT2 E - I395 N - CT138 E - CT165 E - RI165 E - RI3 N - RI102W - I95 N
Although not as efficient as #1 above, this is still one of my favorites. It combines large stretches of interstate-standard highway with some back roads and pretty scenery, and can be done in about 95 to 105 minutes. Route 2, accessible from I-84, CT 15, or downtown Hartford, extends southeast through hilly, wooded terrain that is easily cruisable at 70 MPH. In Norwich, after darting around the construction and the nasty 25 MPH ramp to I-395 north, you cruise on I-395 for a few exits until departing onto CT 138 at exit 85. In Voluntown, bear onto CT 165 (signs will be directing you to Providence at this point.) Route 165 has possibly the nicest border crossing that exists between CT and RI. The actual border exists in the middle of a pond, where the road snakes around on a land bridge. East of this, the road lacks curves but instead heads up and down across large hills that let you see far ahead if you are at one of the peaks. Try tuning in to a New York AM radio station and hearing it go in and out of range. RI 165 crosses under I-95 at this point but there is no interchange; you have to head north on Route 3 (note the "Middle of Nowhere Cafe") and then west on Route 102 in order to access the interstate at exit 5. From there it's about a 25 minute ride to downtown by way of scenic heavy industry.
I91 S - CT9 S - I95 N
Proving that you can travel anywhere in the country without actually seeing anything, some prefer to take routes that lead in completely antiproductive directions just for the priviledge of driving fast. Well, OK. You do run into two traffic lights on CT 9 in Middletown, where the skanky downtown section is accessible by at-grade exits here. Avoid at rush hour. Route 9 follows south along the Connecticut River and terminates at I-95 in Old Saybrook. It's another 80 or 90 minutes from there to Providence on a highway that achieves being ugly despite being only a couple of miles from the beach.
CT2 E - I395 N - CT695 E - US6 E - US6 BYP E - US6
You get to see one state while avoiding another. I don't blame you. Follow Route 2 to I-395 as in #3 above, then continue on 395 to Exit 90, signed "To US 6." This is actually CT 695, one of the many unsigned "secret" routes that Connecticut sets up to schematically organize things and generally confuse people. What Exit 90 leads to, actually, is a very short interstate-standard highway that extends four miles from I-395 to about 100 feet short of the state line. While the Connecticut Turnpike still existed as a toll road, the Turnpike was signed from the New York line at I-95 to the I-395 junction at Waterford, then continued across CT 695 to Rhode Island; essentially creating an eastern corridor across the state. I-95 east of Waterford and I-395 north of Danielson are non-Turnpike sections of the Interstate system. This is also why the exit numbering on I-395 starts at 76; it is meant to be an extension of the highway extending out of New York State. This might also explain why there is no direct access to I-95 north from I-395 south, or I-395 north from I-95 south, but doesn't explain why six exit numbers are mysteriously absent from I-95. Again, they just want to confuse you so they can give you speeding tickets when nobody's looking. Anyhow, from the eastern end of this "secret highway" US 6 continues across the state line as in #2 above.
For those who want the opposite effect, "Bypass Rhode Island," follow the #11 route below into Rhode Island and in Westerly follow RI 3 north to I-95.
In homage to the people who planned these things, you can in fact take one numbered route between the two cities. The only differences between this and #2 are the avoiding of I-384 and the US6 bypass in Scituate. Not worth it unless you plan to live in East Hartford someday. Not taking the Scituate bypass adds ten minutes and a small town to your trip.
Both US6 and US44 merge in Hartford and Providence, but arrive there in very different ways. US 44 is co-signed with US 6 through East Hartford and Manchester and merges with the eastern terminus of I-384 -- see #8 below. At the intersection with CT 101, signs point CT 101 as the way to Providence, while US 44 is signed for Putnam. For good reason, too, because there are many small congested towns to pass through on 44, especially when you approach the Providence area. East of US 44's intersection with I-295 in Greenville, the road hits North Providence and becomes Smith Street, an ancient, congested two-laner that snakes through lots of churches and old grocery stores, approaching downtown Providence from the north. You don't realize you're there until you pass the State House on your right, but there's a 7-11 nearby to fill the Slurpee need. Don't bother going this way unless you have all day and are not susceptible to road rage.
I84 E - I384 E - US44 E - CT101 E - US6 E
A good alternative to #1 above, with a bit of a time sacrifice. US 44 continues east of the I-384 terminus through farmland, interrupted by the University of Connecticut - famous for ice cream and women's basketball. The Nathan Hale homestead is also along this route.
I84 E - I90 E - MA146 S - RI146 S
This doesn't save you any time over I-95, the southern route, and will actually cost you toll money on the Mass Pike. Still, Route 146, the Worcester-Providence connector, is a roadgeek's diversion. In Massachusetts, the road alternates between suburban strip mall and interstate-standard highway. In Rhode Island, there is more of a parkway feel with some nonstandard exits and a couple of traffic lights. Eventually, 146 feeds into 95 south at exit 23 near the State House. This highway has become more popular as a result of a direct interchange to 146 from the Mass Pike (exit 10A), constructed in the late 1990s.
CT2 E - CT66 E - US6 E - US6 BYP E - US6 E
When people talk about "Suicide 6", they really mean the corridor between the I-384 terminus at Bolton and the freeway portion near Columbia. Large yellow signs implore drivers to use daytime running lights in this area. This is a fairly scenic detour on remote CT 66 that bypasses this part of US6; and by extension it is the best route to Providence from Middletown, Conn.
CT2 E - CT11 S - CT82 E - CT85 S - I95N - US1N - RI4 N - I95 N
This detour visits the eastern shore coastline of Connecticut, including Mystic Seaport, Groton, and New London. US1 crosses into Westerly, at which point it becomes a beautiful winding forested route through South County hugging the interior regions of the Block Island Sound and Narrangassett Bay coastlines. RI4 is an interstate-standard bypass leading to I-95 in East Greenwich.
CT2 E - I95 N
At its intersection with I-395 in Norwich, Route 2 becomes a two-laner, meandering through a lot of nothing until.. the largest casino on the East Coast. It hits I-95 at exit 92 near the Rhode Island border. I tried going this way once, and it took me 6 hours and cost me $120! :)
-- Jon Persky
There are a few alternatives I (Scott) have taken, and I'll append them here:
CT2 E - CT94 E - CT85 S - CT207 E- CT97 N - CT138E - RI138 E - I95 N
Leaving Route 2, it takes Route 94 about 10 miles to transition from four-lane arterial to suburban collector to farm country. Route 85 is mostly rural, except for the small town center at Hebron. Route 207 crosses the historic Lebanon center, and ends in Baltic, a mill town. A slight jog on Route 97 brings you to Route 138, the same highway that leads to Newport and eventually a few miles from Boston. Once in Rhode Island, pick up I-95 to Providence. (Alternate route: continue on 138 to US 1, and see the half-cloverleaf once planned to be part of Interstate 895.)
CT2 E - CT66 E - CT14 E - RI14 E - I295 N - US 6 E
Route 66 in Marlborough is part of the original (1930s) routing of CT 14. Follow it to Willimantic, Plainfield, and into Rhode Island.
Takes you a little farther along I-84, then through some scenic areas in Woodstock and Putnam. For more adventure, mix in the old route 197 alignment, which takes you off the state highway system for a while.