83.53 miles; from a continuation of the Hutchinson River Parkway at the New York state line to Interstate 84 in East Hartford.
Route 15 comprises the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, the Berlin Turnpike (though its official name differs from town to town), the South Meadows Expressway, the Charter Oak Bridge, and a short segment of the Wilbur Cross Highway.
Route 15 is a four-lane parkway from New York to Meriden, a four- and six-lane boulevard (the Berlin Turnpike commercial arterial) north to Wethersfield, and a four- to six-lane freeway by Brainard Airport and over the Connecticut River.
Points of interest for road enthusiasts include: the entire Merritt Parkway; the state's only single-point urban interchange (SPUI) at Route 111; the West Rock Tunnel in New Haven; a Route 40 overcrossing with no interchange at all; and the Charter Oak Bridge.
These pages describe parts of Route 15 in more detail:
I-91 northbound, approaching the exit to Route 15 southbound in Hartford. US 5 overlaps with Route 15 here, but is not marked here.
The nationally renowned Merritt Parkway opened in stages from 1938 to 1940 in Fairfield County. It was named after Stamford congressman Schuyler Merritt; the Wilbur Cross Parkway was named after the Connecticut Governor who endorsed building the Merritt in 1925.
The Wilbur Cross Parkway served as the northeastward extension of the Merritt, part of a plan to connect Fairfield County with Hartford and an eventual statewide expressway network. It opened in stages from 1941 to 1949.
The Berlin Turnpike
The state had planned to extend the Wilbur Cross Parkway as a controlled-access highway to Hartford, but this was never done. Instead the four-lane Berlin Turnpike filled that role, a divided highway with at-grade intersections and a few interchanges. In 1965, Interstate 91 opened to the east, providing Meriden to Hartford travel without traffic lights.
The six-lane Charter Oak Bridge over the Connecticut River opened on September 5, 1942. An interchange at the Park River Highway, soon to be called the South Meadows Expressway, was delayed by War Production Board restrictions. The South Meadows Expressway opened in late 1945; its route included the current Conland-Whitehead Highway (SR 598/proposed I-484), I-91 south to the Charter Oak Bridge, and the Route 15 expressway southwest to the Berlin Turnpike.
On April 28, 1989, the Charter Oak Bridge tollbooths, the last remaining in Connecticut, were removed. It was arranged so that the last person paying a toll was the first person who had paid when the bridge opened 47 years earlier.
On August 8, 1991, the new Charter Oak Bridge opened; building a new one had been more worthwhile than retrofitting the old one or adding another span. The old bridge, a blue-painted steel structure, had some character; the new one sports a more conventional look, with fluted concrete supports.
The state saved metal decorative seals from the old bridge and integrated them into railings at the new riverside park on the Hartford side; unfortunately, these were eventually blowtorched off and stolen. Never overestimate human nature.
The state's 1975 Master Transportation Plan recommended adding an interchange at Folly Brook Blvd in Wethersfield, but this was never done.
Route Numbering Changes
From 1932 to 1948, Route 17 (and Route 17A) was part of the original Route 15, which passed through New Haven, Durham, Middletown, Portland, Glastonbury, and East Hartford. In the latter two towns, the original Route 15 followed Main Street.
The Berlin Turnpike and South Meadows Expressway, signed US 5 and Route 15 today, were just US 5. Both the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways went without numbers until 1948, though the Merritt had the unposted legislative number 1A.
By 1947, the new (undivided) Wilbur Cross Highway to Massachusetts was called Route 15, and in 1943 Route 30 was created between Route 74 in Vernon and Route 20 (now Route 190).
At the same time, the Wilbur Cross highway was under construction in north central Connecticut, in preparation for a continuous divided highway route from New York to Massachusetts via Hartford. However, that route comprised eight different named highways. To help motorists navigate the route, the state decided to apply the 15 numbering to all eight roads.
On May 1, 1948, Route 15 was reassigned to the parkways, Berlin Turnpike, South Meadows Expressway, and Charter Oak Bridge, as well as the existing Wilbur Cross Highway. The total length was over 116 miles, the longest of any state highway within Connecticut. The remaining portions of the old Route 15 were renamed Route 17. For about a year, the Wilbur Cross was not yet finished between Routes 34 and 10, and Route 15 was temporarily routed along New Haven city streets.
For about 3 decades after the 1948 extension, Route 15 was the way from Hartford to Sturbridge and the Massachusetts Turnpike toward Boston. (The highway continued across the state line as MA 15.) When I-84 was assigned to the Wilbur Cross Highway from East Hartford to Sturbridge, Route 15 kept its signing there as well.
OnOctober 1, 1980, ConnDOT decided to truncate Route 15 at I-84 exit 57 (where it ends today), eliminating the overlap. Commissioner Art Powers explained that the move was intended to simplify signing and reduce confusion. Coincidentally, Interstate 84 (then called I-86) was under complete reconstruction for the entire length of its overlap with Route 15.
To drive the original Route 15, start facing north at East Street and US 1 in New Haven. (This is also an early starting point for US 5.) Continue to State Street and turn north. At Middletown Avenue, turn east, and cross under I-91. This road becomes routes 17 and 80; follow Route 17 toward Middletown.
Route 17 (old Route 15) will pass through North Branford and Durham. At Middletown, do not follow Route 17 onto the expressway segment, but instead continue to Main Street. Route 17 and 66 will join you across the Arrigoni Bridge, which opened in 1938.
In Portland, continue straight onto Route 17A through downtown and Gildersleeve. For a few years, this was part of Route 15, and the eastern Route 17 leg was called Route 15A. At the 17/17A junction, follow Route 17 north toward Glastonbury.
Between South Glastonbury and Glastonbury Center, Route 17 becomes a "Super 2" limited-access road, then a freeway. Instead, turn left on Main Street, which you will follow into East Hartford. Then turn right on Route 30, and follow it to Route 190 in Stafford. Route 190 connects to Route 171 and the Massachusetts state line.
A 1940s version of Route 15 in northern Connecticut, the 2-lane Wilbur Cross Highway, was made four lanes divided in the 1950s. In the 1970s and 1980s, almost all traces of this highway were removed when I-84 was reconstructed. Route 15 was truncated back to East Hartford in 1980.
Steel-grate Sikorsky Bridge replaced
The original Sikorsky bridge, an 1,800-foot open-grate structure crossing the Housatonic River at the Merritt-Wilbur Cross transition, opened in September 1940. The steel grate was unpopular with drivers. An obscure urban legend (or "suburban legend") is the idea that the steel grate was mistakenly designed or installed upside down; but there's no truth to that.
December 1998, the state put to bid a project to replace the bridge, with a six-lane structure (four thru and two operational) including a bike path/walkway on the north side.
The primary reason for replacing the bridge was the eroding steel in the support structure. In Nov. 2003, a ConnDOT representative said the 1940 bridge was in "good shape, but functionally obsolete for the traffic it carries."
The $84 million project to replace the bridge completed around 2007.
More interchanges at key Berlin Turnpike intersections; widen the Berlin Turnpike to six lanes.
The northernmost segment of Route 15 (the Charter Oak Bridge) serves as two connecting ramps between I-84 and I-91.
Route 15 crosses several state highways with no access provided: the Route 40 freeway, and surface routes 114, 313, 243, 136, and 53.
Snarled traffic in Fairfield County has led to some far-fetched proposals involving the Merritt Parkway: first, filling in the other 150 feet of right-of-way and making an 8-lane freeway (thankfully, this was nixed); and second, running a $700 million monorail down the Merritt median. I'm not making this up; see the March 14, 1985 Stamford Advocate.