I-484

Interstate 484 would have connected Interstates 84 and 91 via Bushnell Park, Pulaski Circle and the existing Whitehead Highway in Hartford.

I-484 was never completed, but an older freeway intended to be part of it still exists today: the Whitehead Highway, running from Pulaski Circle to exit 29A on I-91. Though it's not publicly numbered, the Whitehead Highway is officially SR 598.

SR 598 features narrow lanes and a tunnel under Main Street and the Hartford public library. If you've driven it, and it seems ancient, you're right: it opened in late 1945, and would have done so earlier if not for World War II. It was the first expressway to reach downtown Hartford.

I-484's intended role

Even before the Interstate 484 numbering was approved in 1968, the state and city were planning to extend it westward from Pulaski Circle, tunneling briefly under Bushnell Park, and connecting with Interstate 84. The existing Whitehead Highway would be improved to more modern standards.

As a short connector between I-84 and I-91, I-484 was expected to serve some thru traffic that the incomplete 84/91 interchange handled poorly. However, the plan never materialized, and the city suffered from interstate traffic movements having to utilize local streets. In October 11, 1990, the 84/91 interchange was improved to provide direct freeway access in all directions.

On September 20, 1968, the route was approved by the state Bureau of Highways. On March 20, 1969, the Interstate 484 designation was applied to the planned freeway. On September 29, 1983, I-484 was officially cancelled by the state. The Whitehead Highway was never signed as I-484.

Origins

When Hartford expressway planning was underway in earnest in the mid-1940s, the expressway alignment from Pulaski Circle to the so-called Dike Highway (now Interstate 91) was fixed. This was called the Conduit Highway, as it was built over the Park River which was buried in a culvert.

Wartime building restrictions were eased in early 1943, and the Conduit Highway opened in November 1945. It soon was numbered as part of state Route 9.

Most plans included an extension of the highway westward, to either connect with a planned expressway that would pass by to the north (now Interstate 84), or to forge toward West Hartford on its own. The I-84 connection would make the Conduit Highway part of a small downtown loop, intended to efficiently bring traffic in and out of the central business district.

Planned Bushnell Park highway, 1959

The 1959 plan for the Bushnell Park Highway, shown in an October 1963 Hartford Times article. North is toward the top. I-84 is at upper left; I-91, to the right.

The 1959 Plan: connect to I-84

In July 1959 a public hearing was held concerning the state's preferred alignment: a connection through Bushnell Park to what is now exit 48 on the planned Interstate 84. This was similar to a 1947 plan espoused by Hartford Times publisher Francis Murphy, and was known as the "Murphy Plan." The alignments of both I-84 and I-91 had been fixed by 1959, so the location of the expanded Whitehead Highway would be similarly constrained. The I-484 numbering would not be applied to this plan until a decade later.

Planning for anticipated traffic in 1980, designers recommended four 12-foot lanes and a 10-foot median in the new, western section, with two additional 12-foot lanes in a short tunnel under Bushnell Park. The existing section to the east would be improved to six 12-foot lanes and a four-foot median, except under the library and Prospect Street, where there was only room for 11-foot lanes.

The new highway (see diagram above) would provide a full interchange at Pulaski Circle (which might not have survived construction as a circle), and a westbound flyover ramp to Clinton Street just before entering a tunnel. West of Trinity Street, the highway would emerge from the tunnel and intersect I-84.

Though the state had planned to continue with engineering work on the Whitehead Highway in 1959, no funds would be available until at least 1963.

The early 1970s

In 1968, the Whitehead Highway plan was approved for inclusion in the Interstate Highway System, and in 1969 was given the number Interstate 484. In June 1970, another public hearing was held, not because the proposal had changed significantly, but because 11 years had passed, and new open-space laws required the state to hold a new public hearing.

In 1970, Interstate 84 was already open to traffic, further constraining the type of interchange I-484 could connect with. In this hearing, state spokesmen listed the design alternatives that were rejected:

  • Jewell Street Connector (proposed in 1945): from an interchange at I-84 and Asylum Street, the connector would use Jewell Street to a new interchange at Pulaski Circle. This surface-street solution was determined not to be substantial enough to handle anticipated traffic.
  • Jewell Street Widening (proposed by Robert Moses in 1946): similar to the above, but without an interchange at Pulaski Circle. The configuration of I-84 at the western point now made an interchange there impossible.
  • Russ Street Route (proposed by Hartford Flood Commission, 1946): a surface arterial along Russ Street, crossing other streets at grade and connecting with I-84 "somewhere". This proposal would penalize north-south traffic, and the new layout of I-84 made an interchange from there infeasible.
  • Wyllys-Jefferson-Oak Street Route and Park Street Route, two proposals that would swing south of the Capitol Building and avoid Bushnell Park. These surface facilities suffered the disavantages of traffic disruption, high impact to buildings, and loss of tax income.
  • Elm Street Route: running about a block south of Bushnell Park, and condemning all properties on the south side of Elm Street. Difficulties in relocating utilities, as well as an excessively curved underground alignment, doomed this proposal.
  • Capitol Avenue Tunnel (1966): the Whitehead Highway would have connected with Capitol Avenue via a cut-and-cover tunnel. This would also have been difficult and costly to build.
  • Elevating or widening I-84 instead. The problem here: I-84 was already built as wide as possible along most of its alignment; and elevating it would not solve the traffic needs in the Capitol area.

At this time, the state was continuing with the route through Bushnell Park. It was anticipated the highway might be complete by 1974. However, a combination of funding, environmental and political issues eventually doomed the highway, and in 1983 it was cancelled.

The Conland vs. Whitehead Naming Controversy

The small stretch of expressway has carried several names. In the planning stages, it was known as the Conduit Highway, for the Park River conduit it was built on top of. It opened in 1945 named after chairman Conland of the Bridge Commission; but in December of that year, the Hartford Street board gave it the Whitehead name, honoring Ulmont I. Whitehead, Jr, USN, killed in action at Pearl Harbor.

However, the Bridge Commission announced they preferred the old name, and were sticking to it. On Jan. 5, 1946, it was brought up that the contractually agreed-upon name, dating from 1940, was the Park River Street, trumping any later names; but three days later, the Street Board claimed power to name city streets, including the Whitehead Highway.

For many years afterward, including the 1959 public hearing, the highway was known exclusively as the Whitehead Highway. Now, it often goes by both names (Conland-Whitehead).

The Main Street Bridge

Though the Whitehead/Conland Highway dates back to World War II, one feature along the highway was constructed more than 100 years earlier: the stone arch bridge carrying Main Street over the highway. It was built in 1833. Abraham Lincoln was 24; the Civil War was almost three decades away.

It would seem incredible foresight by city planners, building an overpass for a highway to be constructed more than a century in the future. However, the real reason for the bridge was to cross the Park River, which was capped by the highway later.

For more information and a photo, see: Main Street Bridge (Connecticut's Historic Highway Bridges)

Sources:
  • "Cox sees chance to finish dike work." Hartford Times, March 26, 1943. (Cox was the state highway commissioner.)
  • "Cox urges city plan highways." Hartford Courant, March 31, 1944.
  • "New Conduit Highway Open to Traffic." Hartford Times, Nov. 19, 1945.
  • "Whitehead's name given to highway." Hartford Courant, Dec. 27, 1945.
  • "Like to drive from downtown to Sisson Ave in 4 minutes? Expwy plan would do just that." Hartford Times, May 3, 1946.
  • "Contract's 'Park River Street' name may make later ones ineffective." Hartford Courant, Jan. 5, 1946.
  • "Road to be named Whitehead Highway." Hartford Times, Jan. 8, 1946.
  • "There'll always be a Conland Highway." Bridgeport Herald, March 10, 1946.
  • Connecticut Bureau of Highway Planning Studies. A report of an engineering study for expressways in the Hartford metropolitan area. Hartford: 1945.
  • Public Hearing, Whitehead Highways Improvement and Pulaski Circle Connector - Hartford, July 23, 1959.
  • "Bushnell tunnel by 1974?" Hartford Times, March 4, 1970.
  • "Tunnel Construction in park due by 1972." Hartford Courant, March 4, 1970.
  • "Green light flashed for Bushnell project." Hartford Courant, March 8, 1970. (by the state highway commissioner.)
  • "City Council Briefed on Tunnel Connector." Hartford Courant, June 16, 1970.
  • Route Change Notice, ConnDOT, Jan. 10, 1984.