Route 17 offers a lot to interest the road enthusiast. Starting at New Haven, it quickly enters scenic rural countryside, passing through Durham on the way north. At Middletown, Route 17 turns onto a short freeway, with one interchange at Main Street, before merging with Route 9.
After a few blocks on the only non-freeway part of Route 9, Route 17 joins Route 66 to cross the Connecticut River on the Arrigoni Bridge. It continues on a four-lane boulevard with Route 66 into eastern Portland.
Turning north, Route 17 becomes two lanes again until it approaches Glastonbury, where another short freeway starts again; after a neat 5-ramp interchange at New London Turnpike (pictured), it silently merges with Route 2. No "End 17" sign (or "Begin 2", for that matter) lets the unfamiliar motorist know what happened.
Route 17 is the only highway in Connecticut with two separate freeway segments and two separate non-freeway segments.
Scenic... in portions
In 2001, a 1.4-mile portion of Route 17 in southern Durham was designated a state scenic road. In 2003, North Branford officials nominated a 1.5-mile segment of Route 17, from Northford Center to Woods Hill Road. However, the DOT's Scenic Road Advisory Committee declined, saying while Route 17 here "many historic structures and natural resources," the route "does not possess continuous characteristics of a scenic road.". Town officials plan to continue their efforts.
Today's Route 17 is the third highway to use that number. The first was one of Connecticut's longest routes in-state; the second lasted only a year before being redesignated.
New England Interstate 17
(Meanwhile, the modern route 17 was numbered like this: State Highway 104, Glastonbury to Portland; SH 112, Middletown to Durham; and SH 114, Durham to New Haven)
In 1932, NE-17 was disbanded and the number 17 went into retirement for a while.
Route 17, Essex and Deep River
In 1939, Route 17 was designated along Warsaw Street in Deep River and Main Street in Essex, as a connector from Route 80 to Route 9. This 3.28-mile route is SR 602 today. In May 1940, the state moved the eastern end of Route 80 from Deep River to US 1 in Old Saybrook, to help motorists use an inland alternative to busy US 1. The rerouted Route 80 replaced the one-year-old Route 17 in its entirety. (In 1966, Route 80 was moved back to its original terminus in Deep River.)
Modern Route 17
Today's Route 17 was created as part of Route 15. The section of today's Route 17 paralleling Route 17A was not numbered at first, then became (partially) Route 15A. In 1939, the state rearranged routes 15 and 15A so that 15 matched today's 17 and 15A matched today's 17A.
In the late 1940s, Connecticut mulled over how to make its connected highways from Greenwich to Union easier to follow (there were currently eight named highways, including the Merritt Parkway). On May 1, 1948, these roads were christened Route 15, and the leftovers (37.98 miles, from US 1 in New Haven to Route 2 in Glastonbury) became Route 17.
Northern Freeway: Glastonbury
The northern Route 17 freeway includes a half-diamond interchange at Hubbard Street, a 5-ramp interchange at New London Turnpike, and half-interchange at Route 2.
In 1952 and 1953, the East Hartford - Glastonbury Expressway opened, from Main Street in Glastonbury to Brewer Street in Hartford. You'll recognize this today as the narrow part of Route 2 and the northern freeway portion of Route 17, which was shifted there from Main Street when the expressway opened.
The portion from New London Turnpike north was used by Route 2 until 1964, when the Route 2 freeway east of there opened. The sweeping 5-ramp interchange at New London Turnpike is a legacy of that era.
Acheson Drive, Routes 9 and 17, 1957This aerial photo from 1957 shows the original Acheson Drive (Routes 9 and 17) before Route 9 was extended in the 1960s.
Southern Freeway - Middletown
The southern Route 17 freeway includes a diamond interchange at Main Street Extension, and a 3-ramp interchange at Route 9. As it turns out, this freeway wasn't really built for Route 17.
In the 1940s, traffic on Route 9 through Middletown (Main Street) was heavy enough that the state planned for an improved route along the river. On Sept. 15, 1950, Acheson Drive opened to traffic. This included the four-lane boulevard part of Route 9 and a short 9/17 freeway, with space left for a future leg of Route 9 toward Old Saybrook (see photo above). The Route 17 portion was merely part of the original bypass, and not the intent for a near-future freeway extension.
Unbuilt Freeway - entire length
In 1963, the state planned to connect Route 2 in Glastonbury to a Route 66 expressway in Portland, slated for sometime after 1975 (a common phrase at that time probably closer to "way in the future" than any specific year).
In 1966, the state projected that by century's end, Route 17 between Glastonbury and Portland would have twice the traffic volume of US 7 between Danbury and New Milford, and should be upgraded to a freeway by then. However, the 1998 traffic logs show an average daily traffic (ADT) of 7.200 for Route 17 between South Glastonbury and Portland, and from 22,000 to 26,000 ADT for US 7 between Brookfield and New Milford: not all projections pan out.
An April 1967 "Long Range Proposals" map included the Glastonbury to Portland freeway, which would have run west of Main Street. However, the proposal died in the 1970s.
The 1968 "Plan for the Future" and "Expressway Test Plan" proposed another 17 freeway from Middletown to Durham; and South Central Connecticut Planning Region maps from the same era called for a new freeway following Routes 17, 22, and 100 from Durham to East Haven. If all these plans had come to fruition, Route 17 could have been a freeway for its entire length.
The 1971 state official map shows Route 17 designated on Main Street in East Hartford. Route 2 and 17 overlap from the Main Street interchange to the 2/17 split in Glastonbury. Was Route 17 signed on this portion? I don't know.
To drive the original Route 17, start on Main Street in East Hartford, underneath the Route 15 overpass, facing south. This four-lane portion, abutting the Pratt & Whitney plant, became unsigned SR 517 in the late 1960s. Route 17 was officially extended north from Glastonbury probably in the 1950s, when the expressway opened; but I'm not sure if the state ever put up Route 17 signs in East Hartford. At the Route 2 overpass, 17 joins 2 into Glastonbury. Stay on Main Street instead, following the old Route 2 and 15.
The Main Street/Hebron Avenue intersection, at the center green, was the original north end of Route 17. The three-way intersection used to be four-way, with the New London Turnpike heading southeast. The Turnpike was rerouted eastward in the mid-1970s.
Main Street south of there is quiet and residential, lined with centuries-old houses. After a few miles, you'll meet the end of the Glastonbury Expressway as Route 17 rejoins Main Street. Follow Route 17 and 17A into Portland and Middletown.
After you cross the Arrigoni Bridge (which opened in 1938), stay on Main Street. Modern Route 17 goes left to pair with Route 9; the original route followed Main. You'll intersect Route 17 again at the end of the Middletown 17 freeway.
Follow Route 17 into New Haven and turn right on Route 80. There still may be a stray sign implying Route 17 continues, and it once did, all the way to US 1. Route 80 ends at I-91, but Middletown Avenue continues. Follow it, and turn left on State Street, where you'll pass the undocumented place US 5 ends. Turn left again on East Street, and follow it to US 1.
The state is planning to upgrade the interchange with I-91 and Route 80; see that page for details. (This was proposed back in 1997, though, and might need to move from "future" to "forgotten".)
Route 17 from Durham to Middletown is quite congested and unsafe in areas. In the late 1990s, the Mid-State Regional Planning Agency conducted a corridor study here and published several findings, primarily spot improvements and other recommendations. Unfortunately, these are no longer available on-line.
A freeway bridge over the river, south of the Arrigoni Bridge, connecting Route 66, Route 9, and a proposed (but probably moribund) I-691 extension. The freeway would end at Route 66, with 17 continuing north in its present form.
"At one time, Route 17 was a direct route between Boston and New York City, so over the years Cypress has seen its fair share of such entertainment notables as Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Count Bassey, Louis Armstrong and the Dorsey brothers, to name just a few." -- Hometown News