Starting in Old Saybrook, Route 9 follows the Connecticut River a few miles inland. Many rock cuts along the freeway expose layers from different geological eras. The wide right of way is typical for Connecticut freeways built in the 1960s.
In Middletown, Route 9 is older; it descends out of the hills and runs right along the river for a few miles (an area that occasionally floods). This section, known as Acheson Drive, has two intersections controlled with traffic lights: the only at-grade crossings on Route 9. This part of the highway is not popular with motorists.
North of Middletown, Route 9 cuts northwest across a valley, encounters a sprawling interchange with I-91, then moves westerly into Berlin. There, it incorporates a nearly 40-year-old section of road (used for another highway) into New Britain. Leaving New Britain, Route 9 takes a quick jog northward to I-84, using a four-level interchange that had sat unused for three decades.
Route 9 was commissioned in 1932, its path taken from the old New England Interstate NE-10. That highway, in existence from 1922 to 1931, generally followed the Connecticut River from Old Saybrook into northern New Hampshire.
The Original Route
Route 9 originally started in Granby, following a southeast diagonal through Hartford and Middletown to Old Saybrook. This route is now shared by all or parts of Route 189, Route 99, and Route 154. For the exact route and driving directions, see "Drive the Original Route 9," below.
Upgrading Route 9: planning
Freeway plans for Route 9 date back to at least the early 1950s. A 1953 Thruway Plan for the state called for a freeway from the proposed US 5 freeway in Berlin (which saw fruition as I-91 in Cromwell) through Middletown to the proposed US 1 freeway (now I-95) in Old Saybrook. All of this was complete by 1969, except for the at-grade boulevard in Middletown, which was never upgraded.
In 1961, the state's long-range plans for Route 9 included an expressway from the northwest into Hartford, following today's Route 189, and meeting I-84 at Sisson Avenue (exit 46). After a short overlap with I-84 westbound, Route 9 would use a proposed Cedar Ridge Connector (SR 504) to reach the Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield, where the US 5/Route 15 expressway merges with it. Somehow (the report didn't specify), Route 9 would transition over to I-91 in Cromwell. Then the new Route 9 would diverge southeast, passing through Middletown on the way to Old Saybrook.
In 1963, the state announced plans for a 55-mile Route 9 expressway, four to eight lanes wide, from proposed Route 10 and Route 20 expressways in Granby to I-95 in Old Saybrook. The route in Hartford was changed from the 1961 plan. Instead of using the Cedar Ridge Connector, Route 9 would use the planned Bushnell Park connector (later proposed as I-484) and an overlap with I-91 to reach Cromwell.
In another proposal, Route 9 southbound would diverge from I-91 near the Putnam Bridge, and parallel today's Route 99 toward Middletown instead of overlapping with I-91 into Cromwell.
The Cedar Ridge Connector was still in state plans, but no longer part of Route 9. It was later cancelled. The long exit ramps at Exit 45 (SR 504) would have been the northern terminus of the freeway.
A few roads existing today recall the Route 9 plans: the Flatbush Avenue connector (SR 504), the Sisson Avenue interchange with dead-end ramps to the north (SR 503), and a short freeway in North Bloomfield (Routes 187 and 189). For detailed information about the northwest Metro Hartford plans, see: Woods River Expressway.
In the end, Route 9's development was not played out as scripted; two traffic lights remain in Middletown, the northwest Hartford section was never built, and Route 9 has since incorporated pavement and right-of-way meant for three other freeways (Route 72, SR 506, and I-291).
Building Route 9: Hartford
When the South Meadows and Conland-Whitehead highway (now parts of Route 15, I-91, and SR 598 leading from the Berlin Turnpike to the Capitol) opened in 1945, Route 9 soon hopped aboard and took that route into Hartford. (The Whitehead Highway was later slated for the proposed but never completed Interstate 484.) Route 9 went this way until 1963, when its north end was set to the Route 15 interchange (now with Route 99) at the Hartford-Wethersfield line.
A trailblazer for Route 9 guides the motorist along routes 82 and 154 in Haddam. The nearby Route 82 Connector leads to the Route 9 expressway. Photo taken Sept. 2002 by Kurumi.
Route 9 Opening Dates
Some of these are not precise yet, because I haven't tracked down the requisite documents. From south to north:
Building Route 9: Cromwell to the Shore
For over 20 years, Route 9 simply completed a triangle with Interstates 91 and 95, providing access to Hartford and the beaches via Middletown. The oldest segment of this road, a short freeway/boulevard segment from Route 99 to the vicinity of the route 17 connector in Middletown, was studied in the mid-1940s and opened in 1950. This section features two signalized intersections that remain today, despite plans to build interchanges to replace them.
Jay Hogan writes that the state was considering sending Route 9 across the river to Portland using two new bridges, and converting the current waterfront Route 9 area in Middletown to a shopping/recreation area.
Most of Route 9 south of I-91 opened in the late 1960s. Some funding problems in late 1964 led the state to consider opening a rural section of Route 9, between Route 81 and the Chester town line, to 2 lanes initially. A truckers' strike delayed the opening of this section to mid-1968, but it was opened with four lanes.
The interchange at I-91 in Cromwell included rock cuts for a freeway and ramps heading west, to extend Route 9 to Route 72 in Berlin. These were eventually used in 1989, but with a few modifications: the left-hand exits once planned from I-91 north and Route 9 south were converted, by means of a flyover and a loop, to right-hand exits, which are safer.
After Route 9 was complete, the old Route 9 north of Middletown became Route 99, and the old portion south became Route 9A. (In 1986, Route 9A was absorbed by Route 154.)
The Central Connecticut Expressway
Since the mid-1950s, the state had planned to construct Interstate 291 as a circumferential freeway around Hartford via Rocky Hill, Newington, West Hartford, and other towns. A few miles south, another freeway would connect Route 9 in Cromwell to Route 72 in Berlin; more miles of Route 72 in New Britain would connect to I-291 via a short spur.
However, I-291 ran into opposition early and never was built. The state then concentrated on building the Central Connecticut Expressway, a highway running through Cromwell, Berlin, and New Britain, connecting to I-84 in West Hartford. This would be an extension of Route 9.
In 1979, a short 10-lane stub was built in New Britain, leading northward from the "elbow" in Route 72. There had long been plans for a connector between Route 72 and I-291 here, but by 1979 I-291 had already been cancelled. Called the "Highway to nowhere" by New Britain's mayor, this stub sprouted weeds until July 17, 1986, when the $12.3M, 1-mile Taras Shevchenko expressway (secret route SR 506) was built from there to Route 175. For a few years, this was signed "To Route 175" northbound and "To I-84 and Route 72" southbound.
In December 1989, Route 9 was extended west from the I-91 interchange to the Berlin Turnpike, to connect with the old Route 72 freeway which opened there in 1961. Route 9 incorporated Route 72 from there into New Britain, and continued north along the Shevchenko Expressway into Newington. The $41M link was delayed slightly in 1986 when an Wangunk Indian encampment was discovered during excavation.
On September 30, 1992, the 3.8-mile, $32.5M final leg of Route 9, named the Iwo Jima Highway, was completed from Route 175 along the old I-291 corridor to the four-level "stack" interchange at I-84. This interchange had sat idle for decades, and now is half-used: there's no road continuing north of I-84. When this section opened, it and the Shevchenko expressway were christened Route 9.
Here's a map of the final Route 9 configuration, with the planned I-291 corridor in green:
Drive the Original Route 9
Starting in the center of Granby, take Route 189 south toward Hartford. In North Bloomfield, you'll encounter a short isolated section of freeway that opened in 1960. This was once planned to connect to Hartford's freeway system. The freeway turns into Route 187; turn right to stay on 189.
In West Hartford, where Route 189 ends, turn left on US 44; a mile later, turn right on Homestead Ave. Then navigate through Hartford, following Garden St (right), Cogswell St (right), and Capitol Avenue (left).
In the mid-1940s, Route 9 was rerouted onto the nearby Whitehead Highway. To follow the original route, instead turn right on Main St, then fork left on Wethersfield Ave. As you approach the town line, this road will become Route 99.
For the 1932 route, stay on 99 into Middletown. For the 1920s route, instead fork left onto what becomes Hartford Avenue, going south into Old Wethersfield. Using Main and Marsh Street, go through the town green onto Middletown Avenue. This was the original route before the Silas Deane Highway, aka "New Trunk Line No. 10," opened to the west, farther from the river.
Middletown Avenue will bring you to Main Street in Rocky Hill, and back to Route 99. You just bypassed one of the major commercial corridors, and the "old route 9" south of here is considerably quieter.
At the Cromwell-Middletown border, Route 99 ends at a ramp to Route 9 southbound. This section of expressway/boulevard opened in the 1950s. After you pass under the Arrigoni Bridge, turn right onto Route 17; at the top of the grade, turn left (south) on Main Street, and follow it out of Middletown.
Main Street becomes Saybrook Road, and eventually becomes Route 154 at its entrance to Route 9. Scenic Route 154 follows the west bank of the Connecticut River to its mouth at Old Saybrook. The road became Route 9A in 1969 when the Route 9 freeway was completed, and became Route 154, for less compelling reasons, in 1986. At US 1, Route 154 continues, but the original Route 9 ended. Congratulations on your trip down the original Route 9!
Completing the Christian Lane interchange
Berlin is pushing for two more ramps to complete the Christian Lane interchange; currently, drivers can only access Route 9 toward and from New Britain. During a flood in the 1980s that cut off access to several areas of town, Berlin emergency personnel bulldozed a temporary exit ramp on Route 9 northbound (it's now closed).
The DOT has opposed building ramps there because of proximity to the Route 372 ramps to the east. In January 2002, town officials met with state legislators to press for the ramps.
Completing the Route 99 interchange
At the end of Route 99 (Main Street in Cromwell), there's no ramp to Route 9 northbound, or from Route 9 southbound. Police and fire officials in Cromwell say the alternates -- either using Route 372, or making a U-turn in Middletown -- create safety problems for that area of Main Street. In July 2003, town officials voted unanimously to have the town police chief petition ConnDOT to add the missing ramps. They hope that the state will incorporate these changes in the larger Middletown project being studied (see below).
Removing those Middletown stoplights
Over the decades, the state has mulled over improving the substandard 1.5-mile Middletown section, a 1950s-era 4-lane road where the controlled-access freeway yields to three traffic signals and some tight interchange ramps.
The 1975 Master Transportation Plan recommended $20 million of improvements in the area, but provided no details other than "Upgrade Expressway."
Following decades of no progress, the state looked at smaller fixes to help traffic safety and capacity. For example, a third northbound lane was proposed to assist motorists merging from the short Route 17 expressway.
The city, reluctant to have land between the highway and the river taken, and the Harbor Park entrance affected, instead proposed modifying the Route 9/17 interchange from a flyover to a diamond. This would provide better sightlines, direct access from Route 9 northbound to Route 17, and a gateway to a proposed waterfront development.
In 2000, the state announced it would once again look at a more permanent solution, which would "almost certainly" involve replacing all at-grade intersections with interchanges, resulting in Route 9 being a freeway for its entire length. Pedestrian bridges would be added for access to the riverfront. The first section to be designed, a new Route 9/17 interchange, could have been completed (design, not construction) in about 3 years. Cost estimates were around $75 million.
In June 2003, ConnDOT and an engineering firm unveiled some alternatives for the two planned interchanges. At Route 17 south, the free-flowing interchange would be replaced by a diamond or a single-point urban interchange (SPUI); however, the SPUI was less favored by the state.
For the Route 17/66 interchange near the bridge, a new road would lead west from Route 9 north of Bridge Street. The Middletown Press reported: "One option has a raised platform entering Route 9 South or Route 9 north. The other option is a free-flow ramp to Route 9 with a loop up to a T-shaped intersection." I wish there were maps online, but I haven't found any.
Middletown business owners are worried about reduced access to downtown, especially if the traffic lights are removed before the interchanges are completed. The downtown is considered healthy, with several advantages as a regional commercial and cultural center.
Some observers point to New Britain as an object lesson: after Route 72 opened, difficult access to downtown convinced people to drive and shop elsewhere. "[Route] 9 cut off access into downtown," Coordinator Advisory Committee member Vincent Amato told the Middletown Press. "People don't seem to learn how to navigate into downtown. We don't want that to happen here."
The latest transportation improvement plans for Hartford include revisiting the I-84/Route 4 interchange to provide access between Routes 4 and 9.
A 1997 proposal for easing US 44 traffic included a four-lane road from the unused half of the I-84/Route 9 stack leading northwest toward Avon; see the US 44 page.
"I've lived with what the highway projects did to downtown New Britain. If you took out the traffic lights and put up Jersey barriers across the exits, you'd solve the Route 9 problem - and you could say goodbye to Middletown."
"Nothing was happening about that highway. So, I put up one sign after another that read, 'Highway to Nowhere.' The state kept taking my signs down. It got my picture on the front page of USA Today."