Hartford, the state's capital and largest city offshore, has been the subject of expressway planning for over 50 years. The popularity of early parkways and expressways, such as the Merritt (1938) and the Whitehead-Conland (1945) touched off plans for statewide and urban expressways, though planning and construction in earnest would have to wait until the end of World War II.

The sinuous paths through the city of familiar highways today, including Interstates 84 and 91, arise from three proposals drawn up shortly after the war. Planned but unbuilt expressways such as Interstate 484 and Route 189 also date from that period. The city, state, flood commission, a newspaper publisher, and even Robert Moses weighed in with ideas to ease Hartford's traffic and prepare for its growth.

Success of Merritt, Conland whet appetite for more expressways

The Merritt Parkway opened in two segments, in 1938 and 1940, to traffic levels exceeding what engineers expected. By 1941, some sections of the Wilbur Cross Parkway opened, and in 1942, the Charter Oak Bridge opened, providing a divided highway river crossing south of the street-level Bulkeley Bridge between Hartford and East Hartford.

Many motorists and engineers considered the modern expressway an unqualified success; in 1945, the state Bureau of Highways called it "the only real solution of the problem of highway congestion." [CBH45] Though most of the state's experience was with rural expressways, such as the Merritt Parkway, the primary goal of postwar Hartford studies was to bring expressways directly into the central business district (CBD), to relieve traffic and provide access for businesses.

Existing expressways at the War's end

At the time, the term "express highway" included roads the state does not consider expressways today, such as the Berlin Turnpike, a divided highway that still contains several at-grade intersections with traffic signals. In 1945, the Hartford area enjoyed the Turnpike south to Meriden, a new US 5 highway north to East Windsor Hill, the Charter Oak Bridge and approaches, the Whitehead and Conland highways (now parts of I-91 and SR 598).

Expressways already planned

Planned for the near future, and already eggs in the basket as the state was concerned, were the Riverfront Boulevard and North Meadows Expressway (now I-91), an extension of Route 15 to Manchester (opened 1949), a Route 9 expressway to Rocky Hill (now served by I-91), and Route 15 into Glastonbury (now Route 2; opened in 1952 and 1953).

Longer-range plans included a relocation of US 6 through Southington, Plainville, and New Britain (a route similar to today's I-84); an expressway from West Hartford to Farmington, roughly along I-84; an extension of the Route 9 expressway to Cromwell; an extension of the Wilbur Cross Highway, and an unnumbered expressway closely following today's I-91 through Windsor Locks and Enfield.

The State plan (1945)

The Hartford - West Hartford Expressway

This 9.3-mile road would start at the Hartford side of the Bulkeley Bridge, continue west to Asylum Street, turn south to intersect the Jewell Street connector (q.v.), then turn west, going between Boulevard and Farmington Avenue until the Trout Brook.

From an interchange at Trout Brook with Farmington Avenue, the highway would turn south again, swinging under South Main Street and reaching Corbins Corner. Finally, it would extend another 2 miles to reach Route 4 in Farmington.

If this route sounds a little familiar, that's because Interstate 84 takes many of the same twists and turns. I-84 has a more southerly route between Sisson Avenue and the Trout Brook, but part of a proposed connector to Farmington Avenue (today's exit 43, SR 501) was built. In the same way, the Route 4 connector from I-84 at exit 39 nearly coincides with the west end of the 1945 plan.

Interchanges were proposed at: the Bulkeley Bridge, Morgan at Main, Church/Ann streets, Spring and Broad streets, Sigourney Street, Sisson Avenue, Prospect Avenue, South Quaker Lane, the Trout Brook connector, and Corbins Corner. The list is nearly the same as I-84's exits in the area.

The Hartford - New Britain Expressway

This 4.2-mile road, never built, would have connected downtown New Britain to the Berlin Turnpike (US 5) on a corridor roughly along today's routes 174 and 287. Exits were proposed at Clark and Winter Streets, Stanley Street, Willard Avenue (Route 173), Main St (route 176), and US 5 near East Robbins Road (Route 287). Provisions were made for a future extension westward to a US 6 expressway in Plainville.

The Jewell Street connector

This at-grade road would connect the West Hartford Expressway to the Hudson Street Circle (now known as Pulaski circle), the west end of the Park River Expressway (now the Whitehead Highway, SR 598). The connector, skirting Bushnell Park and paralleling Jewell Street, might have needed an expressway treatment later.

The connector was later addressed in the 1970s as Interstate 484, with a planned tunnel under the park to connect with I-84. No connector, either above or below ground, was ever built.

A future Northwest expressway

The plan did not call for building one yet, but the Hartford - West Hartford expressway was to provide room for connection to a future expressway serving the northwest and US 44. Other parties planned an expressway paralleling Homestead Avenue to the south, intersecting with US 44 near the University of Hartford.

State Plan Summary

The plan totaled 13.5 miles of expressway, costing $21.7 million. The four segments, in order of priority, were:

More to come!

There are about 30 more years of freeway planning to cover. I'll get to those when I have time.