US 6 was once the longest highway in the United States, extending from Long Beach, Calif. to Cape Cod, Mass.; its length at the time – 3,652 miles – has not been exceeded. After its truncation to Bishop in 1964, US 6 ceded the "longest highway" crown to US 20.
This page briefly discusses US 6 nationwide, and then covers US 6 in Connecticut. If you are interested in the expressway planned for the "Suicide 6" stretch between Bolton Notch and Willimantic, please see: From Hartford to Providence.
US 6 is four lanes wide in many sections, including divided highways in Southbury, Manchester, and Killingly. At I-395, US 6 is a short freeway, with a partial interchange (some movements are served by the Connecticut Turnpike spur, SR 695).
Easy to miss is an interchange at Danielson Pike (SR 607), since US 6 is two lanes here. There's also a partial wye interchange at the end of SR 695 at the Rhode Island state line.
New Milford man walked Route 6 end to end
In 2004, Joe Hurley, a former Danbury News-Times reporter from New Milford, walked along present-day and historical US 6 from Provincetown to Los Angeles. He writes about his experiences at route6walk.com.
US 6 History
Get your kicks...
"I'd been poring over maps of the United States in Paterson for months, even reading books about the pioneers and savoring names like Platte and Cimarron and so on, and on the road-map was one long red line called Route 6 that led from the tip of Cape Cod clear to Ely, Nevada, and there dipped down to Los Angeles. I'll just stay on all the way to Ely, I said to myself and confidently started."
From humble beginnings, US 6 once stood as America's longest numbered highway, stretching from Cape Cod to Long Beach, Calif.
In October 1925, when the Joint Board on Interstate Highways was devising the new U. S. route system, US 6 was defined as a relatively short route, from Provincetown, Mass. to Brewster N. Y., via Providence, Hartford, and Danbury.
In late 1926, this route was changed, and was now in two parts: one from Provincetown to the Conn/N. Y. state line in Danbury, and another from Kingston, N. Y. to Erie, Pa. Total length was 707 miles, and the two segments were aligned pretty much where US 6 goes today.
In 1928, the Kingston end was moved to Danbury to unite the two segments, and the leftover northern alignment was called US 6N. (In 1933, this US 6N was discontinued.)
Around 1930, the Roosevelt Highway Association lobbied for the extension of US 6 westward. On June 8, 1931, this was granted: US 6 subsumed US 32 and 38 from Chicago to Denver, and continued to Greeley, Colorado. Another US 6N was created from a section rerouted in Pennsylvania from Erie.
In 1936, the Grand Army of the Republic (an association of Union veterans of the Civil War) proposed that US 6 be named the "Grand Army of the Republic Highway." In 1937, the New York and Connecticut state legislatures agreed, and since then other states have followed. As GAR membership was limited strictly to those who served in the Civil War, the road soon served as a memorial to all members.
In 1937, US 6 was extended to Long Beach, Calif., at the intersection of the Long Beach Freeway (built later) and the Pacific Coast Highway. At 3,652, this was the longest route in America, a record that still stands.
It wasn't until 1952 that US 6 was completely paved. After a 33-mile section in Utah was paved, parades were held on US 6.
In 1964, California (boo hiss!) truncated Route 6 at US 395 in Bishop, Calif., just over the Nevada state line. (While US 6 got the equivalent of a bad haircut, other US routes -- such as US 99 -- were eliminated altogether in a statewide highway reorganization.)
US 6 in Connecticut
In 1926, US 6 was commissioned, thought it was not signposted in Connecticut until early 1928. Most, but not all, of its route came from New England interstate route NE-3; for that reason, NE 3 continued to be signed after US 6 was signed, in contrast with US 1, US 5 and US 7, which replaced NE 1, NE 2, and NE 4 entirely.
The original US 6 route in 1928:
New York state line to Danbury (along present-day US 6)
through Danbury center to Newtown
across the Housatonic on the Glen Road Bridge (today's SR 816), north of I-84's crossing
River Road, Fish Rock Road, and Main Street into Southbury
present-day US 6 from Southbury to Thomaston
South Main Street and East Main Street in Thomaston
today's US 6 to Rhode Island, except for "Old Route 6" in Hampton and SR 607 in Killingly
Backing up a second....
Some parts of US 6 predate route numbering by a century or more.
Much of present-day US 6 (and most of the 1926 routing) is part of The Revolutionary Road, used by the American Continental Army in at least five campaigns, including a successful Rhode Island battle that enabled the French to land at Newport eventually join the fight for American independence.
This road is also noted for French Gen. Rochambeau's march in the same era.
Main Street in Woodbury, part of US 6 now, was laid out along an Indian trail in the 1670s. From Southbury to Hartford, US 6 roughly follows the old East Middle Turnpike, a tollgated coach trail established in 1803 and turned over to the public in 1839. The "Suicide 6" portion through Andover follows the old Hartford - Norwich and Hop River turnpikes, the later of which was turned over in 1853.
The first route of US 6 through Hartford was along Farmington Avenue, crossing the Bulkeley Bridge, and leaving East Hartford on Burnside Avenue (today's US 44). When US 44 was commissioned in 1935, it was routed along Silver Lane.
In 1943 or 1944, US 6A between Terryville and Farmington became part of US 6 proper (as it is today). Route 72 was extended from Plainville through Bristol, and Route 4 took over Farmington Avenue into Hartford. US 6 continued into Hartford along a southern route, along Colt Highway, Brown Street, and Airport Road (now SR 529 and SR 530). US 6 then took the new Charter Oak Bridge (with US 5) into East Hartford, and turned onto Silver Lane, where the Wilbur Cross parkway used to end. US 44 was shifted north to Burnside Avenue, where it is today. As the Wilbur Cross Highway was extended, US 6 piggybacked on it to where I-84, US 6, and US 44 meet now in Manchester.
In 1969, the South Street/Brown Street/Airport Road section of US 6 was decommissioned. Now US 6 pairs with I-84 through Hartford and is rarely signposted during that stretch (exits 38 to 60).
Hartford-area Freeway Plans
Planning for east-west freeways in greater Hartford predates the I-84 numbering granted in 1957. Before that year, many plans referred to the future highway as relocated Route 6.
One of the earliest Route 6 freeway plans was a 1945 proposal to connect New Britain with the Berlin Turnpike in Newington with a new east-west highway.
US 6 is a primary inland route through the state, connecting Hartford and Providence with smaller cities such as Willimantic and Killingly. From the 1960s until 1983, Connecticut and Rhode Island planned for Interstate 84 to be built in this corridor; in fact, the Windham freeway section of US 6 was formerly signed I-84, until Dec. 12, 1984. Concerns over the Scituate Reservoir, Providence's water supply, eventually killed the plans, and spot improvements are being done to US 6 in problem areas. For details, see Hartford to Providence.
Planning in the Windham - Chaplin area began in 1985. Chaplin favored a new alignment for the improved US 6, following the old railroad tracks south of the current road; but the state favored using the existing alignment. In 1999, US 6 was widened to four lanes in Windham, between the end of the US 6 freeway and Route 203. Wider shoulders were added from there to Route 198.
In Hampton, it was decided in 1986 to reconstruct US 6 as a two-lane arterial with climbing lanes where needed; this has been done.
In Brooklyn, the state plan (as of 1991) was four lanes through town, with eight-foot shoulders, for safety and capacity reasons. In East Brooklyn, US 6 was widened this way in 1992. However, the same treatment through the town's historic center was unpopular; and an alternative proposal for a US 6 bypass was also rejected. In 1998, a compromise was reached, keeping the two-lane profile and alignment, smoothing some hills, and realigning slightly at the most hazardous curve. This was completed around 2005.
There is an "Old US 6" in North Windham, closely paralleling current US 6,
and another in Hampton, where US 6 was routed until the late 1950s.
In 1958, the boulevard/freeway section was built in Killingly, to provide access with
Route 52 (now I-395). For details, see Killingly (Danielson) Roads.
The state has long planned to connect I-384 in Bolton to the US 6 freeway in Windham,
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 Willimantic. Arguments against include property taking
and wetlands destruction. This plan ties into decades-long plans for expressway access to
eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island.
For details, see From Hartford to Providence.
A solution (build it or cancel it) for the Bolton - Columbia freeway
proposal seems far, far away. Meanwhile, the state has begun spot
improvements on "Suicide 6".
Wider shoulders were constructed near Bolton Notch in 2000, and new
traffic signals were installed. Near Route 87 in Andover, the state
added shoulders and turning lanes, as well as closing
off Lindholm's Corner (SR 631), a cutoff between Route 87 and
US 6 to the east.
Brooklyn and Danielson
The state plans to reconstruct US 6 from west to east of Brooklyn Center. It will not
be widened to four lanes (as the east Brooklyn approach to Danielson was); instead,
it will remain two lanes, with wider shoulders, and various small improvements.
The design took into account public comments from a June 1998 public
hearing. An open house on the design was held January 11, 2001. Construction
on the $14.4 million project began in summer 2003, and should complete in July 2006.
Strange rerouting proposal, 1968
In February 1968, State Highway Commissioner Howard S. Ives outlined the proposed new alignment of US 6 in the Interstate era, with I-84, I-91 and I-291 complete. The proposed New Route 6:
today's Route 72 from US 6 in Plymouth to I-84 in Plainville (probably displacing Route 72)
overlap I-84 and continue along Route 72 to I-291 in Newington
(not specified) either overlap I-91 to Hartford and I-84 to Manchester, or overlap I-91 and proposed I-491 to Manchester
use planned I-384 (I-84 at the time) to Bolton Notch
The old US 6 might have become US 6A—but the section from Route 10 to Two Mile Road (near I-84) in Farmington would become part of US 202.
All of this is pretty bizarre, though more interesting than the nearly secret overlap US 6 has with I-84 today. And what about US 202... would it end in Farmington? If so, what would happen in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine? If not, how would US 202 find its way back to its existing route in Avon?
US 6 Kurumi Suggests
US 6 gets lost in the shuffle through the Hartford area; while it's paired with
I-84, most signs ignore this fact and point out I-84 only.
Furthermore, US 6 bypasses some city centers that could probably use a little
more attention. The "thru route" following US 6 doesn't have to be the most
efficient route; that's what I-84 is for.
In Danbury, return US 6 to its historical path through Danbury, using Lake Avenue
and Newtown Road instead of overlapping with I-84. Past Newtown and Sandy Hook,
follow Glen Road (SR 816, old US 6) over the Housatonic River into Southbury.
Then find Main Street and follow it to existing US 6/CT 67. At this point US 6
vectors north toward Thomaston, and we have not yet overlapped with I-84 at all.
In Farmington, US 6, using the Colt Highway, approaches I-84 again at exit 38.
Instead, use Birdseye Road to Farmington Avenue, where present-day Route 4
ventures into West Hartford and ends. Instead, send Route 4 over the expressway
connector (SR 508) to I-84 at exit 39. US 6 will instead follow Farmington Avenue
all the way into downtown Hartford (as it did in the 1930s). At exit 48,
overlap with I-84 through the "canyon" and across the Bulkeley Bridge.
In East Hartford, exit with US 44 and overlap through downtown, along Burnside
Avenue, and across I-84 into Manchester. This creates a uniform 6/44 overlap
from the Bulkeley approach to Bolton Notch.
Advantages: more visibility and continuity for US 6; a return to some historic
alignments; greater feeling of connection to city centers; ability to follow US 6
on bicycle or foot.
Disadvantages: more mileage of state-maintained road.
But what about Suicide 6?
I think a "Super 2" design, with a short Andover bypass, may be a compromise between
safety and capacity needs, and minimizing environmental impact. A letter to the editor in
the Hartford Courant proposed an interesting alternative: abandon I-384's northeast upswing
toward Bolton Notch; instead, continue the expressway due east from I-384 at Route 83,
and bypass the wetland area to the south.
US 6 Quotes
"I had put up signs 'Trespassers will be shot'. And I do believe that I went after them and said I will blow your heads off. I don't know if I would have aimed for their heads, probably their knees, but we never got to that point."
Property owner Ann Bandazian, to a PBS "Divided Highways" journalist, about surveyors for a new expressway in the "Suicide 6" area
US 6 Sources
"1,967 Miles of Highways Now Under State Control." Hartford Courant, Feb. 19, 1928.
"Roosevelt Highway now stretches to Greeley, Colorado." Hartford Courant, Aug. 21, 1932.