Route 161 serves three town centers in southern Connecticut: Niantic; Flanders; and Chesterfield. It's two lanes wide, except for a four-lane section from Industrial Park Road, through the I-95 interchange, to US 1.
In the 1920s, State Highway 161 followed what is now Route 302, between Route 58 and the Newtown Turnpike.
The modern Route 161 was commissioned in 1932, originally between US 1 and Route 85 only. It was extended south around 1940.
In 1965, the state proposed relocating a small portion of Route 161 near E. Pattagansett Road to eliminate a dangerous curve. This was done sometime later, but I don't know when.
In October 1972, Route 11 opened between Route 2 in Colchester and Route 82 in Salem, but funding problems prevented further construction that would complete it to I-95. There was a planned interchange at Route 161 in Chesterfield.
As ConnDOT explored how to keep Route 11 moving, one of the options was to extend it to Route 161. East Lyme officials were concerned this would funnel Route 11 traffic onto the two-lane Route 161 toward I-95. However, this was one of a few options (and the Route 11 controversy continues to this day), and Route 161 has not been marshalled in this cause.
Route 11's primary cause for completion is to relieve traffic hazards and congestion on parallel Route 85. It's unlikely any partial Route 11 extension, which would not completely solve the problem, would be approved.
According to ZZYZX, the best Dr. Pepper in the world can be found on a Route 161 store just off I-95. As the 1970s state tourism slogan goes: "So Much, So Near."