You could argue that I-395's history goes back more than 300 years: it parallels the Mohegan Road, now approximately Route 32 between Norwich and New London, which was laid out in 1670 and became a turnpike in 1792.
However, the first north-south motor highway in the area was Route 12, which was signed around 1923 and originally extended into northern Vermont.
In 1953, state highway Commissioner G. Albert Hill mapped out a ten-year, $400 million expressway plan featuring 12 new roads, including all of Route 12 in the state. He recommended that the expressways, which included familiar routes such as US 7, Route 8, and US 44, be toll highways. The Roads, Rivers and Bridges Committee of the State General Assembly discussed the proposal, and most of it has come to fruition.
I-395 Opening dates
- I-95 to SR 695 (US 6 east cutoff): Jan. 2, 1958. This portion is part of the Connecticut Turnpike, which includes most of I-95 and SR 695.
- SR 695 to Route 101: Oct. 5, 1962. This was planned as "Relocated Route 12", but (I think) never signed that way.
- Route 101 to Massachusetts state line: Sept. 12, 1968.
"The Ribbon of Hope"
In January 1958, the Connecticut Turnpike opened, bringing freeway access to Norwich and as far north as Danielson, by way of a two-lane Danielson Connector between the Turnpike's "elbow" (where it swings east toward Rhode Island) and US 6. Portions of this route were two lanes wide at first, and widened to four lanes toward the end of the year.
The idea of continuing an expressway northward was called a "ribbon of hope" for a sleepy eastern state economy. In 1962, the state incorporated the Danielson Connector into a new four-lane freeway extending to Route 101. This was called "Relocated Route 12" in planning documents, but was not signposted for the first couple of years. On Sept. 15, 1964, the Route 52 designation was applied from I-95 northward.
The Bay State finished its part later, connecting Route 52 to the Massachusetts Turnpike in the mid-1970s. Not that they weren't fans of the route to the north; in hearings for the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973, Massachusetts representatives requested interstate funds for both Route 52 and Route 8, from border to border. A Massachusetts planning map shows Route 8 extending to Interstate 89 in Vermont, and Route 52 extending to I-93 south of Manchester, N. H.
A Good Stopping Point
Connecticut and Rhode Island had planned since the late 1960s to build Interstate 84 from Hartford to Providence; however, concerns over its Scituate Reservoir caused Rhode Island to decline its part in 1982.
Connecticut decided to still extend I-84 anyway, to end at Route 52 in Killingly. If Route 52 were another interstate highway, state officials reasoned that getting federal approval and funding for I-84 would be easier.
In August 1982, Congressman Sam Gejdenson proposed renumbering Route 52 as an extension of I-290, which already existed in Massachusetts. Gov. William O'Neill asked the U.S. Transportation Secretary to consider an interstate designation, calling the route a "logical addition" as it links I-90 and I-95. Route 52 already met the physical standards of an interstate highway – the other main criterion for acceptance.
The interstate designation was approved, but the number was changed from 290 to 395. A Hartford Courant article using the I-290 designation appeared just six days before the state announced on June 20, 1983, that Route 52 was promoted to I-395.
The spur to the Rhode Island border, officially secret route SR 695, was never intended to be I-695; in fact, SR 695 was designated 20 years before I-395 was.
Connecticut vs. Rhode Island
Some of the following is based on fact, and some has not been proven. It concerns why the Connecticut Turnpike was routed by Norwich and Killingly instead of continuing along the shore; and what might have been some consequences decades later.
Reasons for locating the Turnpike northward certainly included helping Norwich and Killingly. State Senator Lawrence Gilman (not the music critic) is said to have favored a highway linking Norwich to the shoreline. The Turnpike's original name is the Greenwich-Killingly Expressway, for the towns at each end.
As the Turnpike was being designed, the allocation of a federal Interstate route along the shore was already well-known. Some say that the Killingly alignment was also intended to secure a longer extent of future Interstate 95 in Connecticut. This would have resulted in fewer miles for Rhode Island, as I-95 would have proceeded straight across to Providence; under Ocean State protest, as the story goes, Interstate 95 was ruled to go closer to the shore.
The final part of the story: In the early 1980s, when Connecticut needed Rhode Island's help to keep the eastern I-84 proposal alive, Rhode Island remembered the Connecticut Turnpike/I-95 attempt and "got revenge" by stuffing I-84.
Again, I've heard this from just a few people, and not seen any sources you could call official. But the story is interesting nonetheless.
I-395 to... Sturbridge?
The (apocryphal?) interstate slapfight above is not the only bit of hard-to-confirm lore surrounding I-395. A page at OldWebster.com asserts that the original plan for the freeway, circa 1958, was to veer northwest from Putnam via Woodstock to meet the Mass. Pike at Sturbridge! On January 31, 1958, the Webster-Dudley Chamber of Commerce sent the following letter to the Mass. Turnpike Authority:
"At a meeting of the Webster-Dudley Chamber of Commerce held on January 28, 1958, it was unanimously voted that our organization urge your consideration of Exit 10 at Auburn and Route 12, 193, 21 and 6 as the suitable connecting links between the Massachusetts and Connecticut Turnpikes. Furthermore, that turnpike maps be revised to show Routes 193 and 21. Those routes are presently omitted. Discussion at our meeting indicated that a saving of 13 miles and approximately 30 minutes would result from the use of these routes, which mainly bypass the business sections of communities between the two highways. Your review of this would be appreciated."
Only through tireless efforts of a "Short Link Committee" and other advocates, says the page, did I-395 pick up the straight north-south alignment it has today.
I have found no other story corroborating this one; and it was odd enough that I wanted it to be true. And I don't mean any ill will to the historians of Webster. However, the I-395 to Sturbridge story has only one source, and looking at a map would show the idea making little sense. If you were starting out in 1958, planning a new highway from Killingly, would you want to connect diagonally to Sturbridge, a small town already served by I-84 heading back to Hartford -- or due north to Worcester, a bigger city and a shorter route to Boston?
I-395 / Route 82 interchange redesign
The 6-ramp interchange at I-395, built in 1958, was redesigned around 50 years later. In late 2002, the state announced a plan to remove the northeast loop ramp from I-395 northbound to Route 82 westbound. The remaining I-395 northbound offramp would serve both directions on Route 82 at a signalized intersection. Both the exit and entrance ramps would be reconstructed for better safety and operations.
Granted, the state was taking away a "free" traffic movement, but the update proposed was sound. The interchange is right next to a shopping center, so the I-395 offramps were already signalized. In the new design, both the ramps would be able to use the same traffic signal.
I-95/395 interchange design if Route 11 built
The proposed interchange for Route 11, I-95 and I-395 in Waterford. Access to US 1 is thrown in for I-95 and I-395. Note that the 95/395 interchange will still be incomplete, and no access is provided between Route 11 and I-395. However, I-95 and Route 11 will have high-speed access in all directions.
The state proposal to complete Route 11 (now moribund) would connect that highway to I-95 where I-395 ends today. The existing 395/95 interchange would have been incorporated in the new Route 11 interchange (see above).
The benefits for I-395 included removal of the left exit on I-95 northbound, and direct, no-weaving access to US 1. However, there would still have been no access between I-395 and I-95 toward New London; and no access provided between I-395 and Route 11.
In Nov. 2004, as part of I-95 improvement plans, Mohegan Tribe chief of staff Chuck Bunnell advocated adding a ramp to I-395 from I-95 southbound (and presumably the I-395 ramp back to I-95 north). The casino encourages visitors to stay on major highways, but those from points southeast have to use Route 32 from New London. If they miss the Montville Connector to get on I-395, they stay on Route 32, which narrows to two lanes, through Montville. Mayor Joseph Jaskiewicz agreed that this could be a problem, especially if a racetrack further north on I-395 is constructed as proposed.
I-395: last good place for new development?
In 2002, I-395 was seen by some as a good corridor for development, as it was one of the last remaining uncongested freeways in the state. In the words of Plainfield Economic Development Coordinator Michael Saad: "The 395 corridor represents the only reasonable travel left in Connecticut."
Once the secret's out, would I-395 fill up immediately? Probably not. The area's population is still low, many residents don't mind driving longer distances to New London or Worcester (in other words, not demanding development closer to home), and many would like the state's "Quiet Corner" to stay quiet.
I-395 in Waterford is a different story: from 1992 to 2000, traffic there increased 141 percent, because of increased tourism and casino traffic. No widening plans are in the wings, though.
Mileage-based exit numbering
When Route 52 was completed to the Massachusetts line, an exit numbering scheme inherited from the Connecticut Turnpike was in place: starting at Exit 77 for Route 85 in Waterford, and continuing sequentially to Exit 100 for Wilsonville Road in Thompson. For 30 years the highest numbered exit in the state has been on I-395.
In 2015, Connecticut replaced almost all guide signs along I-395, and replaced the sequential exit numbers with distance-based numbers. For example, former Exit 77 (Route 85) became Exit 2. This change met with some resistance, but follows the national standard for exit numbers. Connecticut was one of the last states to change over, and I-395 was the first long freeway in the state to change.
The state had proposed mileage-based exit numbering for I-91 in 1974, but backed down because of business opposition. For more background, see Exit numbering in Connecticut.