This 2007 photo shows the CT 72 Expressway looking east through New Britain, about one-half mile west of its terminus at the CT 9 Expressway interchange. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT: Beginning in the late 1950's, civic and business leaders began pushing for a new expressway along the CT 72 corridor. By the early 1960's, both the Connecticut Highway Department and the Tri-State Transportation Commission announced plans for a 28-mile-long CT 72 Expressway. Completion of the entire length of the expressway originally was scheduled for 1975.
In its original configuration, the four-to-eight lane expressway was to connect I-91 and the CT 9 Expressway to the east in Cromwell with the CT 8 Expressway to the west in Thomaston. Part of the route, less than one mile in length, was to overlap with I-84 (Yankee Expressway) at Cooke's Gap in Plainville. One section through New Britain was to feature a dual-deck design consisting of three westbound lanes and three eastbound lanes.
A section of the original CT 72 Expressway opened in November 1962 between Kensington and Berlin. In 1989, this original section became part of an extended CT 9 Expressway.
EAST OF I-84: The first section of the today's CT 72 Expressway proper, a 1.4-mile-long, six-lane section between I-84 and CT 372 (Corbin Avenue), opened in February 1970. Continuing east, a 1.5-mile, six-lane section of the expressway was constructed through downtown New Britain between 1975 and 1979. The depressed CT 72 Expressway, which is flanked by land service streets, connects to what would eventually become the CT 9 Expressway.
WEST OF I-84: To the west of I-84, a 1.2-mile section of the CT 72 Expressway to a point just west of CT 10 (Farmington Avenue) in Plainville was constructed in 1975. The section, which featured a six-lane, dual-carriageway design, was not immediately opened to traffic. Its opening had to wait until the opening of the Bristol extension five years later.
Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) abandoned the dual-carriageway design. Instead, ConnDOT built the next 1.7-mile section to existing CT 72 and CT 372 as a four-lane, single-carriageway route, with a concrete "Jersey" barrier separating the opposing traffic flows. This section, which extends west to the Plainville-Bristol town line, was completed in 1980. Today, vestiges of the earlier dual-carriageway proposal (such as grading and bridge construction) appear along the CT 72 right-of-way.
The CT 72 Expressway was to have featured a multi-level ("stack") interchange with the CT 10 Expressway in Plainville, just west of the existing CT 10 (Farmington Avenue). (For a short distance between the CT 72 / I-84 interchange and the unbuilt CT 72 / CT 10 interchange, the CT 72 Expressway was proposed to carry the CT 10 designation.) By 1975, ConnDOT had killed the CT 10 Expressway proposal.
As sections of the CT 72 and CT 9 expressways were completed between 1979 and 1991, the existing CT 72 between Plainville and Cromwell was re-designated CT 372.
THE E. BARTLETT BARNES HIGHWAY: In 1999, a bill was proposed before the Connecticut state assembly hearing that would have named the CT 72 Expressway after E. Bartlett Barnes, a longtime Bristol Press editor and advocate of the expressway. Beginning in 1958, Barnes formed the first "Route 72 Now" committee, and through the 1960's, led the "72 by '72" campaign. Even after Barnes left his editorial post at The Bristol Press in the 1980's, the paper continued the fight for the expressway.
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVMENTS: To relieve congestion along the CT 72 Expressway corridor, ConnDOT began work in 2001 to improve the area through the CT 72 / I-84 merge in Plainfield. The work involves the construction of a new on-ramp and off-ramp from the CT 72 Expressway westbound to CT 372 (New Britain Avenue), various safety improvements, drainage expansion, noise barriers, retaining walls, and the elimination of the existing on-ramp and off-ramp to Crooked Street. The $6 million project was completed in 2003.
According to ConnDOT, the CT 72 Expressway carries approximately 40,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through the New Britain area, dropping to approximately 20,000 vehicles per day through the Plainville-Bristol area.
This 1962 proposal for the CT 72 Expressway, shown here as a scale-model appearing in Connecticut Highways magazine, featured a dual-deck design through New Britain. The dual-deck expressway was to have three westbound lanes and three eastbound lanes. The CT 72 Expressway was ultimately constructed below street level through the city in the late 1970's. (Photo by Connecticut Highway Department.)
THE 1970 PROPOSAL: In 1970, ConnDOT proposed an alignment for the CT 72 Expressway that was to follow the existing CT 72 and US 6 west to the CT 8 Expressway in Thomaston. At the Plainville-Bristol town line, the expressway was to continue south of the existing CT 72, running parallel to (and about one mile south of) that route. To minimize community disruption, it was to steer clear of downtown Bristol.
Continuing west, the CT 72 Expressway was to cross US 6 between Terryville and Plymouth. Unlike the existing CT 72, which veers north toward CT 4 near Harwinton, the expressway was to continue west, running parallel to (and north of) US 6. The expressway was to provide an alternative to the two-lane US 6, which offered limited visibility through hilly terrain, through Plymouth west to the CT 8 Expressway.
Due to the lack of funds and community support, the CT 72 Expressway extension west to Thomaston was quietly shelved by the late 1970's.
THE 1987 PROPOSAL: More than 15 years later, ConnDOT came back to the table with scaled-down plans for the CT 72 Expressway. The proposed 6.0-mile, four-lane extension was to extend west from the current terminus at the Plainville-Bristol town line to the Bristol-Plymouth town line, along the right-of-way purchased for the original CT 72 project. To ease congestion, the western terminus was to be placed away from downtown Bristol.
The four-lane, dual-carriageway expressway was expected to carry 20,000 vehicles per day (AADT) by 2005. Compared with other alternatives, the CT 72 Expressway around Bristol would have provided the most benefit to local and regional traffic, while providing the largest economic boost to the Bristol area. However, these benefits would come at a price: the $99.2 million expressway extension would have displaced 263 residences and 21.8 acres of wetlands.
In 1987, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and ConnDOT approved the final environmental impact statement, but due to the lack of funding, the proposed CT 72 Expressway extension around Bristol was never built.
THE 1997 PROPOSAL (BOULEVARD THROUGH BRISTOL): In the mid-1990's, another proposal was floated by ConnDOT to extend CT 72. This time, plans called for the construction of a 2.1-mile, surface-level arterial from the terminus of the CT 72 Expressway west to CT 229 (Middle Street) in downtown Bristol. The project also called for improvements to be made to CT 229.
A description of the proposed boulevard appeared in the following 1999 article in The Bristol Press:
The proposed four-lane road would run from the end of the expressway in Plainville to Middle Street. It would cross a new bridge over the Pequabuck River to align directly with Riverside Avenue. The eastern half of the 2.1-mile street would consist of a below ground-level boulevard that would cut across a residential area until it reached an area of today's commuter lots near Pine Lake. It would follow the existing Pine Street corridor until veering north behind the Dunkin' Donuts to meet up with Riverside Avenue.
The proposed alignment of the CT 72 extension south of downtown Bristol - plans for which still are active - would be the same as that proposed in 1970 and 1987. West of CT 229, the right-of-way for the CT 72 extension would not be used. Instead, CT 72 would follow another alignment along Mitchell Street west to Riverside Avenue. The four-lane, median-separated boulevard would have a design speed of 45 MPH, and have signalized intersections and left-turn lanes where appropriate. To limit access, cul-de-sacs would be created for several side streets.
CONSTRUCTION AT LAST: After four years of environmental studies, the FHWA, ConnDOT and the Bristol City Council approved the CT 72 boulevard extension in 1997. Design work on the project was completed by late 2001, but budget difficulties and community disagreement over zoning along the existing CT 72 (Main Street and Broad Street) and the new CT 72 alignment delayed groundbreaking on the project. Preliminary construction work (such as drainage and stream relocation) began in late 2007; much of the project is scheduled to be carried out in 2008 and 2009.
The $31 million project cost is being covered 80 percent by the Federal government, with the remainder to be covered by state and local funds. Upon completion, the existing CT 72 may either be re-designated as an extended CT 372, or dropped from the state highway system altogether.
EXTENDING WEST TO ROUTE 8? Further west, officials in Plymouth are seeking to revive the 1970 proposal that would have extended CT 72 west to the CT 8 Expressway. Proponents cite that an extended four-lane CT 72 would relieve congestion on US 6 through Plymouth.
This 2007 photo shows the westbound CT 72 Expressway approaching EXIT 1 (North Washington Street) in Plainville. The narrowing of the median strip reflected ConnDOT's change in plans for a six-lane, median-separated design to a four-lane design with only a concrete "Jersey" barrier separating traffic flows. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
The CT 72 Expressway should be extended west from Plainville as a four-lane, controlled-access facility to the CT 8 Expressway in Thomaston. Part of this expressway should be constructed on the originally proposed alignment south of Bristol. Completion of the CT 72 Expressway should help relieve congestion along the I-84 corridor.
In 1998, ConnDOT revived plans for studying a spur road from CT 8 to serve the Bristol Business Center and the Plymouth Industrial Park. An extension of the CT 72 Expressway should serve this function. However, the hilly terrain of the area would pose a challenge for its construction.
SOURCES: Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Connecticut Highways (1959-1963), Connecticut Highway Department (1963); "Expressway Plans," Regional Plan Association News (May 1964); Connecticut Highway Needs, Connecticut Highway Department (1967); Planning for the Future, Connecticut Highway Department (1968); "Highway Progress and Highway Status Map," Tri-State Transportation Commission (1969); "Route 72: Environmental Impact Evaluation," Connecticut Department of Transportation (1978); "Connecticut Route 72: Administrative Action Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1987); "Connecticut Route 72: Re-evaluation of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1995); "Route 72 Plan Gets No Support," The Bristol Press (6/16/1999); "Bus Corridor Plans Studied" by Karen Guzman, The Hartford Courant (2/23/2001); "City Adapting Itself to Coming Route 72 Alignment" by Ken Byron, The Hartford Courant (6/17/2004); "Reconstruction Postponed, Route 72 Study Advisory Committee Hosts Forum To Gauge Public Response" by Don Stacom, The Hartford Courant (7/29/2004); "Route 72 Relocation, Town of Bristol," Connecticut Department of Transportation (2008); Erich Bachman; Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky.
CT 72 shield by Barry L. Camp. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.