Hartford and Providence, capitals of adjacent states and in metro areas of about 1 million people, share no freeway link between them. From 1968 to 1982, a rerouted Interstate 84 was to connect the cities, serving Manchester, Willimantic, and Danielson as well. However, concerns over environmental impacts to a reservoir supplying much of Rhode Island's water helped kill the project.
Now primarily spot improvements on two-lane roads are planned, but controversy still brews on a planned 11-mile link from Bolton to Willimantic, to relieve traffic from the dangerous "Suicide [U.S. Route] 6" there. However, a feasibility study may be conducted on buiilding a low-profile parkway/greenway in most or all of the old I-84 corridor.
We'll discuss what happened to I-84 in the area, what is being done about Suicide 6, and what other work has been done on US 6.
When the first routes of what would become the Interstate Highway System were announced in 1944, Connecticut's allotment included Interstates 84, 91, and 95 as they are now. No route crossing east-central Connecticut to Providence was included. The state's 1953 long-range expressway plan, calling for US 6 to be upgraded from Manchester to the Rhode Island state line, is the first mention I've seen of a planned expressway in the area. Notably, all expressways in the plan were proposed as toll roads.
In late 1953, the state also started discussions with East Hartford and Manchester about relocating US 6 in those towns. In 1959, public hearings were held in those towns along with Bolton, and the expressway (I-84, now I-384) from Silver Lane to Bolton Notch was eventually built in 1970.
The expressway idea for US 6 had some local support: in 1962, advocates drove a team of oxen from Willimantic to Hartford, as if to show that was the traffic for which the current US 6 was best suited.
In 1963, the state announced plans for a 46-mile US 6 expressway, from four to six lanes, passing through Manchester, Willimantic, and Killingly. In the 88th Congress (1963-64), Rep. Robert N. Giaimo (D-3rd, Conn.) submitted bill HR 6052: Designation of Route 6 as part of the Interstate Highway System. I haven't seen text of the bill or its fate, but several years later it was approved in spirit.
In 1968, the Federal Highway Administration approved a new 64-mile interstate route connecting Hartford to Providence along US 6. All that remained was to actually build it.
The original number for this route was an eastern I-82, duplicating a route in Washington State too far away for confusion. By 1969, however, this new route was instead being considered as a rerouting and extension of I-84, possibly to avoid a numbering conflict with state (route 82). The leftover portion of I-84, from East Hartford to I-90 at Sturbridge, Mass., was changed to I-86. (The proposed I-491 bypass through Glastonbury would become part of I-86 in name as well, though it was never built.)
The 1966 document "Choices for Action" mentioned large traffic projections for US 44A (now US 44) from Bolton to Mansfield, and opined that another expressway might be needed there, depending on the location and construction of the Route 6 expressway to the south.
In 1970 and 1971, Connecticut built two isolated sections of the eastern I-84, in Manchester and Willimantic. The Manchester section, now signed I-384, extended from Silver Lane (now exit 1) to US 6 and 44 in Bolton; the Willimantic section, unchanged from its opening, is now signed US 6. Both sections were originally signed I-84.
In 1978, I-84 to Providence still seemed like a go as the Rhode Island governor endorsed a route in his state. Costs for the proposed expressway were about $470 million in Connecticut, and $125 million in Rhode Island.
In the Ocean State, there were at least two alternative routes:
In 1980, the US Council on Environmental Quality said it could not approve building I-84 in Rhode Island, saying that the "piecemealing" of environmental impact statements (at least 3 EIS's and one or more supplemental EIS) was not valid. The federal DOT concurred, approving I-84 in Connecticut but not its neighbor. Connecticut DOT leader Arthur Powers said extending I-84 to Route 52 (now I-395) would still be worthwhile even if the Rhode Island portion was scrapped altogether.
In 1982, Rhode Island canceled its part of the highway, but Connecticut still planned an extension to I-395 in Killingly. In August 1983, Gov. O'Neill conceded that the state was unlikely to get congressional approval for extending I-84 to Killingly, and recommended building the Bolton-Willimantic link and other improvements.
In resignation, Connecticut renumbered I-86 back to I-84. The two sections of I-84 already built toward Rhode Island were renumbered as well: in Manchester, I-384 was created, and in Willimantic, US 6 was routed onto the former I-84 expressway. This became official on Dec. 12, 1984.
Federal legislation in 1973 enabled states to "trade in" previously earmarked funds for cancelled interstate highways. The death of eastern I-84 led to the "I-84 Interstate Trade-in Concept Plan," a series of improvement projects to handle east-west traffic in the Windham and Killingly areas.
Bob Coppinger found blueprints from 1975 that show the proposed interchanges for the I-84 expressway through eastern Connecticut. I summarize what I-84 would have looked like from I-84/384 (exit 59) in East Hartford to Rhode Island.
Yes, this is my first "exit list".
|I-384 Exit #||Notional |
|1||60||Spencer St |
|The west end of the Manchester fragment until the 84/384 interchange was completed.|
|2||61||Keeney St |
|3||62||CT 83 |
|4||63||Highland St |
|5||64||CT 85 |
|Half interchange; EB exit, WB entrance|
|6||65||US 6/44 West |
|Half interchange; WB exit, EB entrance|
|--||66||US 6/44 East |
|This would replace the wye interchange at Bolton Notch.|
|--||67||Parker Bridge Rd |
|This was in the 1975 plan, and there was even talk of extending CT 275 here. But the current US 6 plan has no interchanges between Bolton Notch and Columbia.|
|--||68||CT 66/US 6 |
|The western terminus of the Windham US 6 expressway.|
|--||69||CT 32 |
|Existing interchange on US 6.|
|--||70||CT 195 |
|Existing interchange on US 6.|
|--||71||US 6 |
|The western terminus of the Windham US 6 expressway.|
|--||72||CT 97 |
|Near the border between these towns.|
|--||73||CT 169 |
|--||74||CT 12 |
|--||75N/S||I-395 (CT 52) |
|or Worcester, New London, etc.|
|--||76||Ross Rd||Unnumbered exit on SR 695, the eastern spur of the Connecticut Turnpike. EB exit, WB entrance only.|
|--||76||Squaw Rock Rd||Currently exit 90 on SR 695, the eastern spur of the Connecticut Turnpike. WB exit, EB entrance only.|
|--||77||US 6 ||Where SR 695 ends at US 6 and the Rhode Island state line.|
The state has long planned to connect I-384 in Bolton to the US 6 freeway in Windham with a new four-lane expressway, even though I-84 is no longer planned for the area. Arguments in favor of the new highway include bypassing the dangerous two-lane "Suicide 6" section through Andover, and bringing economic benefit to Windham County. Arguments against include property taking and destruction of wetlands near the Hop River.
An average of two people are killed each year on Suicide 6, one of the most hazardous roads in the United States. The road headlined a 1998 "Unsafe Roads" segment on the tabloid TV news show "Dateline NBC."
Opponents of the expressway contend that other means are available to increase safety without the fiscal and environmental cost of a full expressway. In 1999, Connecticut's US 6 and US 7 expressway plans made the Top 50 unwanted highway projects in Taxpayer.net's Road To Ruin site.
The expressway proposal has sparked nonstop contention. The state has considered over 130 freeway alignments in the area, with each of them snubbed by either the locals, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), or the EPA. In late 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers said planned spot upgrades of the existing Route 6 are not sufficient and that the state should look at freeway options. Meanwhile, the state is proceeding with localized safety upgrades: straightening curves, improving lines of sight, and so on.
The road thing has sort of forced people around us... Our orientation is sort of north-south with Interstate 395. It's less and less with Hartford."
In 1972, what is known today as the Clean Water Act was passed. Section 404 of that act prohibits discharging dredged or fill material into U.S. waters without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Later court activity defined U.S. waters to include wetlands. As there are wetlands in the US 6 corridor, building an expressway requires a Section 404 permit.
The state applied for a permit in 1979, and was notified in 1989 (yes, 10 years later) that the Corps would deny the permit. Earlier that year, the FHWA had stated that upgrading existing US 6 would be an unsafe and unacceptable alternative to an expressway. The impasse remained for another decade, bringing us to 2000.
In January 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers (COE), more receptive to a freeway plan, asked the state DOT and FHWA for environmental impact reports on the latest proposal, called 133A-Modified, and on several previously considered alternate routes. A Corps permit is required before the state can seek funding and acquire land for the highway; furthermore, the EPA can still veto a Corps decision.
In December 2000, however, the EPA rejected the state's latest expressway proposal. One point of contention: the DOT prefers a routing north of present US 6, while the EPA and USACOE prefer a southern route.
In January 2001, the COE issued a permit Alternative 133 18/25 Modified, which runs south of the Hop River, rejecting ConnDOT's choice, Alternative 133B, which runs north. The COE proposal would condemn twice as many houses (53), but will in COE's view less damaging to the environment.
Columbia First Selectwoman Adella Urban had lobbied for the northern route, but admitted she was not surprised at the COE's unpopular choice: she's convinced the Corps still does not want an expressway in the region at all. Town Manager John Elsesser disagreed; although he prefers an upgrade to the existing US 6, he believes the COE choice is the best of the expressway alternatives.
In January 2001 state rep. Patrick Flaherty (8th District, includes Coventry) introduced a bill requiring that the state sell to the prior owner any land acquired for the US 6 expressway if no permit is issued for construction before January 1, 2003.
Supporters of the bill could have different motives: "give back the land", or "build the cotton-pickin' highway already."
In late Nov. 2001, a Congressional Field Briefing on Route 6 was held in Hartford. Among the topics:
Rep. Rob Simmons (2nd district) reportedly floated the idea of placing a barrier (probably New Jersey concrete barrier) down the center of the road to prevent head-on collisions. This has been applied to other dangerous roads (e.g. Highway 37 in Northern California) for the same reasons... but CA 37 has long stretches of open country, where no left turns or crossing traffic is needed, unlike US 6.
In 2002, federal funds were withdrawn from US 6 over repeated delays and indecision. (I'd have more details, but that's all the particular article had to say.)
As of 2003, these were the various positions:
We recall that Rhode Island declined to continue with Interstate 84 because of possible damage to the Scituate Reservoir. In its 1992 Long-Range Transportation plan, however, Rhode Island advocates building a controlled-access, upgraded US 6 in the western state, leading toward Hartford. The road's purpose would be to maximize development potential in the Providence metro area, while minimizing development in rural areas. RIDOT believes that if properly designed, an upgraded US 6 can be constructed without harm to the Scituate. Safety is a factor as well; a recent Reader's Digest list of dangerous roads spotlighted US 6 in western Rhode Island, while relegating Connecticut's Suicide 6 to a sidebar.
In 2002, committee members for the I-395 Corridor Transportation Investment Area submitted recommendations to the state Transportation Strategy Board. Along with completing Route 11 and increasing safety on I-95:
"Conduct a feasibility study for a limited-access divided highway and associated greenway from Hartford to I-395 and possibly Providence. Consideration should be given to improving east-west travel opportunities for the movement of people and goods, to the protection of the character of eastern Connecticut, and to the prevention of sprawl. Strategies may include minimizing pavement width, purchase of land along the corridor to preserve open space, and limitations of access on and off the highway."
First, this highway would complete what I-84 was meant to decades earlier. Second, this looks a lot like the Route 11 proposal; if Route 11 clears the thicket of approvals and makes it to construction, we may see other highway plans retooled as greenways, because greenways work and nothing else seems to.
In September 2002, George W. Bush signed an executive order directing state and local governments to place high-priority transportation projects on "project streamlining," a fast track aided by a new federal task force. This agency is intended to work with various other parties involved in a highway project (DOT, COE, EPA) to comply with the law, complete paperwork, and smooth the way.
That month, Gov. Rowland submitted two projects to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta: the US 6 expressway from Bolton to Columbia, and finishing Route 11.
The program title is quite terse: "Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews." As of late 2003, US 6 is not on the Priority Project List; only nine projects nationwide are. But it is one of two highway projects submitted from Connecticut on the Project Register. The other is Route 11.