THE US 6 EXPRESSWAY: In 1944, the Connecticut Highway Department drafted a preliminary map of routes to be included in the proposed National System of Interstate and Defense highways. The US 6 Expressway, one of the three routes proposed by the state, was to run from New York State east to Rhode Island. However, when President Eisenhower signed the 41,000-mile network into law in 1956, the eastern portion of the US 6 Expressway from East Hartford to Providence did not make the cut.
Despite this defeat, the state continued to press for construction of the US 6 Expressway. Instead, the cost of the 46-mile long, four-to-six lane expressway through eastern Connecticut was to be evenly divided between the state and Federal governments. In 1962, the Tri-State Transportation Commission outlined plans for this portion of the US 6 Expressway. It was scheduled for completion east to Bolton by 1968, and to the Rhode Island border by 1975.
Early on, residents and business concerns along the US 6 corridor voiced support for the proposed expressway. On March 23, 1963, the Willimantic Chamber of Commerce organized an ox cart-led parade that traveled from Willimantic to Hartford, in hopes of drumming up support from state officials.
THE I-84 ERA: In October 1968, the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) added 1,500 miles to the national Interstate highway network. In the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, the BPR granted an Interstate route between I-84 in East Hartford and I-95 in Providence in the "Proposed Interstate System Adjustment" report. The new route, which was to parallel US 6 and US 44 through Tolland and Wyndham counties, was to be designated as a re-routed I-84 (after being given an initial I-82 designation). The existing I-84 between East Hartford and Sturbridge - the "Wilbur Cross" section - was to receive a new designation: I-86.
Construction of the new I-84 extension began in 1968 on two discontinuous sections in the Manchester and Willimantic areas. The 7-long-mile Manchester section, which features eight lanes east to CT 83, six lanes east to CT 85 and four lanes thereafter, opened in 1971. The 5.8-mile-long, four-lane Willimantic section opened in 1973. Design capacities ranged from 30,000 vehicles per day (AADT) on the four-lane section in Willimantic to as high as 80,000 vehicles per day on the eight-lane section in Manchester.
Even as these initial sections of I-84 opened to traffic, concerns arose about the potential impact on local towns and on the environment. Specifically, concerns about the route in the vicinity of Nathan Hale State Forest in Connecticut, and the Scituate Reservoir in Rhode Island, threatened the further progress of I-84. In 1979, the US Department of Transportation came to the following decisions:
The Rhode Island section of I-84 was not approved. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) had to develop a new environmental impact statement.
The remaining Connecticut sections of I-84 east of Bolton were conditionally approved, subject to the approval of the Rhode Island route.
The interchange with the existing I-84, which was not yet built, was unconditionally approved.
The RIDOT abandoned further study of an I-84 route to Providence after finding that there was no suitable alternative to the previously recommended route in the area of the Scituate Reservoir. As a result, ConnDOT traded in the Interstate highway mileage for the proposed I-84 east of Bolton in September 1983. (These miles were traded in for the north-south CT 52, which subsequently became I-395.)
On December 12, 1984, the following route changes took place:
The "Wilbur Cross" section of I-86 took back its former designation of I-84.
The East Hartford-to-Bolton section of the I-84 extension was designated I-384, denoting its status as a spur of the existing I-84.
The Willimantic section of I-84, which lay east of Bolton, was subject to the Interstate trade-in, and consequently had its Interstate highway status removed. It was re-designated US 6.
COMPLETING I-384: When it opened, I-384 was not utilized to its potential because it did not link to any existing freeways. (The freeway ended at Silver Lane in Manchester, one-half mile short of its intended western terminus at I-84.) By mid-1984, work was well underway on an I-384 connection with I-84, which itself was being widened from six to 12 lanes. This interchange, which includes direct ramps to the I-84 HOV lanes, was opened in stages beginning in October 1986. Additional ramps to I-291 opened in September 1994 when that freeway was completed.
According to ConnDOT, Interstate 384 carries approximately 35,000 vehicles per day (AADT). In 1998, ConnDOT raised the speed limit to 65 MPH along the length of I-384.
MASS TRANSIT ALONG I-384: ConnDOT is considering implementing express bus service along I-384 to Manchester. The construction of an express bus stop at EXIT 3 (CT 83) is part of this proposal.
This 2000 photo shows the eastbound I-384 at EXIT 5 (CT 85) in Bolton. Just east of this point, I-384 terminates at the existing US 6 in Bolton Notch. (Photo by Alex Nitzman.)
EXTENDING I-384 TO EASTERN CONNECTICUT: Around the time of the route re-shuffling in the mid-1980's, state officials proposed an extension of I-384 connecting the discontinuous freeway sections in Manchester and Willimantic. The extension was designated in Federal and state documents as the "US 6 Relocation." Interchanges were planned at existing US 6 and US 44 in Bolton, an extended CT 275 in Coventry (originally shown in 1972 state documents as "Bunker Hill Road"), and existing US 6 and CT 66 in Columbia.
The 13-mile-long, four-lane extension, which is still an active ConnDOT plan, is currently estimated to cost $350 million. Since the extension is to continue east of Bolton, it is ineligible for Interstate funding. As a non-Interstate project, the state will pick up half the cost of its construction, while the Federal government will pick up the other half of the bill. (However, it is possible that ConnDOT may continue the I-384 designation against its non-chargeable Interstate mileage.)
WHICH ROUTE SHOULD IT TAKE? Despite long-standing local and state support, the US 6 Expressway extension has been the target of environmental critics and citizen groups. The original alignment would have been routed through Nathan Hale State Forest on the north side of the Hop River, one of the largest remaining wetlands areas in New England. An alternative alignment south of the Hop River has been bitterly protested by residents of Columbia and Manchester, towns through which the proposed expressway would run.
In 1989, the Army Corps of Engineers denied ConnDOT a construction permit because of potential environmental impacts and the state's failure to evaluate alternatives. The route was also opposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, ConnDOT has spent more than $25 million to study 150 different alternatives, including widening (along the existing US 6) and mass transit options.
Since the late 1990's, ConnDOT has advocated a proposed routing between Bolton and Willimantic ("Alternative 133A") north of the Hop River. This route would avoid more developed parts of Bolton, Coventry, Andover and Columbia, and would require the taking of 26 homes and no businesses. To make the route environmentally amenable, ConnDOT proposed an expanded median width, larger buffer zones and additional grade separations ("critter crossings") for wildlife.
However, the Army Corps of Engineers, with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), rejected the proposed "133A" alignment in 1998 and again in 2001, citing that it would damage environmental resources. The Corps suggested that ConnDOT consider widening the existing US 6, or developing an expressway alternative south of the Hop River. However, the southern proposal ("Alternative 133 18/25") would be more disruptive to surrounding communities, requiring the taking of 52 homes and four businesses. An appeal to this decision is expected.
Nevertheless, there remains a great need to improve the US 6 corridor in this area, where more than half of the traffic is classified as through traffic. Over the past two decades, more than 40 deaths have occurred on the winding, two-lane US 6. Inadequate sight lines, increasing volumes and driveways have contributed to this lethal mix.
The Route 6 Coalition, a community group based in eastern Connecticut, supports the expressway option, while the EPA remains opposed to an expressway on a new right-of-way. The coalition has support from officials in Windham County, who are seeking an extension of the US 6 Expressway east to I-395 in order to improve access and foster economic growth.
Congressman Rob Simmons (R-Norwich), who with other state and Federal officials recently formed a working group on the nearby CT 11 Expressway, has not ruled out similar action for the US 6 Expressway. More recently, Simmons has suggested the construction of a controlled-access "greenway" for the US 6 corridor similar to that being designed for the southerly CT 11 corridor. The state may make the case that that the entire Hop River wetlands area be protected as part of a new road design.
FUNDING THE EXTENSION: The "Interstate trade-in" program, under which 85-percent Federal funding was matched by 15-percent state funding, was a unique Federal program under which new authorizations were terminated in 1996. This program provided funds to states that previously decided not to construct sections of the Interstate highway system. The only such funds available for Connecticut come from the 1983 trade-in of funds stemming from the cancellation of I-84 to Rhode Island. ConnDOT plans to use these funds to fund the US 6 Expressway extension.
REVIVING FREEWAY PLANS TO PROVIDENCE? In a 2002 draft report, the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board recommended that a new freeway be constructed between Hartford and Providence, in order to ease congestion on I-95. The board would seek the cooperation of Rhode Island officials to decide on a new freeway alignment. It has been suggested that the proposed freeway to Providence be constructed as a "greenway" similar to that proposed for the CT 11 extension to Waterford.
When the 5.8-mile-long Willimantic Bypass was opened to traffic in 1973, it was part of the I-84 extension to Providence. One decade later, when the I-84 extension was canceled, the designation was changed to US 6. This 1999 photo shows the US 6 Expressway bypass near CT 32 in Willimantic. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
FROM HARTFORD TO PROVIDENCE: Following the recommendations of the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board, a new freeway should be constructed from the current terminus of I-384 through eastern Connecticut to Providence. The new Interstate highway would be given the I-82 designation, which was the original (but short-lived) designation when the segment was awarded in 1968. The new I-82, which would be applied to the existing I-384 and US 6 segments, would be constructed with a 400-foot-wide right-of-way, four lanes, and a wide, variable median to accommodate existing vegetation and a possible third lane in each direction. The greenway surrounding I-82 would minimize visual and noise intrusion, as well as to preserve open space.
Daniel T. Dey, frequent contributor to nycroads.com, added the following:
I was upset when the Feds got rid of the East Hartford-Sturbridge section of I-86, and I always believed that when I-84 finally got to Providence, it would be extended along I-195 and US 6 to Cape Cod, or at least to the I-195 / I-495 / MA 25 junction in Wareham, Massachusetts. However, since the eastern I-86 designation is now being transferred to NY 17 and PA 17 (Quickway and Southern Tier Expressway), I agree with you that the "Hartford-Cape Cod Expressway" should be re-designated I-82.
SOURCES: Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Connecticut Highway Needs, Connecticut Highway Department (1967); Planning for the Future, Connecticut Highway Department (1968); "Proposed Interstate System Adjustment," Rhode Island Department of Public Works and Connecticut Highway Department (1968); "Interstate 84, Administrative Action Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1972); "Estimate of the Cost of Completing the National System of Defense Highways in Connecticut," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Highway Department (1975); "Interstates 84 and 86, Administrative Action Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1978); "Progress of I-84 Link Up to Court" by Robert R. Landers, The New York Times (10/26/1980); "Connecticut Drops Plan To Extend I-84 to the Border" by Richard L. Madden The New York Times (8/23/1983); "State Lists Alternatives to I-84," United Press International (9/08/1983); "Relocation of US 6: Administrative Action Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1984); "Relocation of US 6: Administrative Action Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1996); "Descriptions of Federal Funding Programs," Connecticut Department of Transportation (1999); "EPA Says Reject Permit for Latest Route 6 Plan" by Peter Marteka, The Hartford Courant (12/20/2000); "Route 6 Is County's Connection to Hartford" by Michael Lemanski, The Norwich Bulletin (12/29/2000); "Army Corps Selects Expressway Proposal, Disappointing Many" by Naomi Goldstein, The Journal-Inquirer (1/09/2001); "Corps' Route 6 Pick Unpopular" by Lee Foster, The Hartford Courant (1/10/2001); "Representative Rob Simmons Speaks Out on Future of Route 6," The Willimantic Chronicle (8/17/2001); "On Route 6, Inaction is Unacceptable" by Rob Simmons, The Willimantic Chronicle (12/04/2001); "Draft Report of the Working Group on the Movement of Goods," Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board (2002); Route 6 Coalition; Daniel T. Dey; Dianne Grenier; Jay Hogan; Tom Labadorf; Michael Kendricks; Scott Oglesby; Stephen Summers; Alexander Svirsky; William F. Yurasko.
I-384, I-84, I-82 and US 6 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.