This 2002 photo shows the eastbound I-84 approaching downtown Hartford. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF I-84 IN CONNECTICUT: In 1936, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) recommended the construction of a network of expressways that were to supplement existing parkways in the New York metropolitan area. Unlike the existing parkways, the expressways were to be open to all traffic. One of the recommended routes was to parallel US 6 from the New York-Connecticut border east to Hartford. This expressway was to be an extension of the NY 22 Expressway through the Bronx and Westchester County. Further study on this route was by interrupted by World War II.
In conjunction with the national highway system being developed by the Federal government, the Connecticut Highway Department proposed three major freeways in 1944 as part of the postwar construction program. Routes on the freeway network, which eventually became I-84, I-91 and I-95, were to provide high-speed bypasses of existing US 6, US 5 and US 1, respectively. The routes were also part of the 1953 statewide system of freeways.
The original I-84 routing, which received its designation in 1958, consisted of the following alignments:
US 6 (EAST-WEST) EXPRESSWAY: From the New York-Connecticut border in Danbury to East Hartford, this was to be a four-to-six lane expressway. It was designated the "Yankee Expressway" by Special Act 166 of the Connecticut General Assembly in 1961.
WILBUR CROSS HIGHWAY: From CT 15 (Wilbur Cross Connector) in East Hartford to the Connecticut-Massachusetts border in Union, this was to be a four-lane, limited-access road. It was originally part of the "Wilbur Cross Parkway."
The first section of I-84 opened as the Wilbur Cross Parkway (CT 15) in 1949. This 36.6-mile-long section through northeastern Connecticut, which featured four to six narrow lanes, received some upgrades in 1954 to accommodate both passenger cars and commercial vehicles. In the mid-1950's, the Wilbur Cross section was extended northeast to Sturbridge, Massachusetts, where it interchanged with the new Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90).
Moving west, the first four-lane section of the US 6 Expressway between existing US 6 in Newtown and CT 67 in Southbury opened in 1953. A second segment, between Mill Street and CT 69 in Waterbury, opened in 1956. Additional segments of the US 6 Expressway - now designated I-84 - opened in Danbury and Southington in December 1961. The new Danbury segment also carried US 6, US 7 and US 202, but shared only four lanes of freeway, two lanes in each direction, creating traffic bottlenecks from the time it opened.
Construction crews moved to the Capital Area in the early 1960's, where I-84 was constructed as a six-to-eight lane highway from the west bank of the Connecticut River in Hartford to East Hartford. This project included the reconstruction and widening of the Bulkeley Bridge, a 1,192-foot-long, nine-span stone-arch structure that first opened in 1908, to eight lanes. (Early plans for a 12-lane Bulkeley Bridge were turned down by the state.) It also included the construction of a partial interchange with I-91. (Additional access to and from I-91 was to be provided by the completion of I-291 and I-484, two highways that were never completed.)
In 1967, I-84 was completed through Waterbury. This section included the construction of the complex, double-decked interchange with the CT 8 Expressway. With the opening of the "Yankee Expressway" between Southington and Hartford on December 14, 1969, the route of the original I-84 through Connecticut was now complete.
The 98 miles of I-84 through Connecticut were completed at a cost of $128.3 million. Original design capacities ranged from 30,000 vehicles per day (AADT) in rural areas to 90,000 vehicles per day through downtown Hartford.
These 1963 photos show I-84 under construction at the I-91 interchange in Hartford (left photo) and at the CT 2 "mixmaster" interchange in East Hartford (top photo). Both photos are shown looking west. Leading into downtown Hartford, the Bulkeley Bridge (built in 1908) was widened in 1960 in preparation for I-84 construction. (Photos by Connecticut Highway Department.)
THE I-86 ERA: In October 1968, the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island were 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. The existing I-84 between East Hartford and Sturbridge - the "Wilbur Cross" section - received a new designation: I-86.
Two discontinuous sections of the new I-84 in Manchester and Willimantic were opened to traffic by 1973. However, by the end of the 1970's, 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 became official:
The Connecticut section of I-86 between East Hartford and the Connecticut-Massachusetts border returned to its original I-84 designation. The move took place several months after the adjacent I-86 section in Massachusetts reverted back to I-84.
Of the two sections constructed as part of the Providence re-routing, the East Hartford-to-Bolton section became part of I-384, and the isolated Willimantic section was re-designated US 6.
Mike Moroney, contributor to misc.transport.road and nycroads.com, related this story about the I-84 / I-86 mix-up as follows:
In the summer of 1999, my uncle drove from New Jersey to Maine. Somewhere in Connecticut east of Hartford they got lost and wound up asking a state trooper for directions. It turned out they were using an old map, and were looking for the I-86 exit off of I-84 so they could get to Massachusetts!
LEFT: This 1990 photo shows the westbound I-84 approaching EXIT 70 (CT 32) in Willington. RIGHT: This 1999 photo shows the westbound I-84 under construction at the left-hand ramp for EXIT 42 (Trout Brook Drive) in West Hartford. (Photos by Steve Anderson.)
RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS: As early as 1967, state officials realized the need to improve and add capacity to the pre-Interstate and early-Interstate era sections of I-84. Faced with projected traffic volumes of 130,000 vehicles per day by 2000, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) began reconstruction of these sections of I-84 in the mid-1970's. The reconstruction projects were intended to improve safety and efficiency on I-84.
In 1976, a pilot HOV lane program, the first in Connecticut, was implemented on I-84 in East Hartford. On the basis of this success, the "Wilbur Cross" reconstruction project soon began. Dedicated HOV lanes, separated from the main roadways by wide stretches of asphalt, were constructed in the median from East Hartford to Vernon. There were also dedicated entrance and exit ramps to the I-84 HOV lanes. Including HOV lanes and collector-distributor (C/D) roads, the section in East Hartford between CT 15 and I-384 was built with as many as 12 lanes.
From the New York-Connecticut border in Danbury east to CT 67 in Southbury, a section that was mostly constructed in the 1950's, I-84 was reconstructed to conform to Interstate standards. The expressway was widened in the Danbury area, where there is a critical junction with US 6, US 7 and US 202, from four to six lanes. Further east, I-84 was widened from four to six lanes in the Waterbury area between the CT 8 Expressway and CT 69.
In the mid-1970's, ConnDOT proposed an ambitious reconstruction of the 36.6-mile-long "Wilbur Cross" section between East Hartford and the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. The proposal was to bring the narrow, four-lane highway in compliance with contemporary Interstate standards. To implement this proposal, the I-84 right-of-way was to be widened to a width of 450 feet along straightaway sections, and to widths of 700 to 1000 feet at interchanges. New interchanges were to be constructed with I-384 in East Hartford, and I-291 in Manchester. The cost of the "Wilbur Cross" reconstruction project was $272.4 million, more than twice that of the original 98 miles of I-84.
East of Vernon, I-84 was reconstructed from its four-lane, guardrail-separated configuration to a modern, six-lane configuration with a wide, variable median. This section connected to a reconstructed I-84 in Massachusetts (the Massachusetts reconstruction took place between 1969 and 1973).
After nearly a decade and a half of construction, the "Wilbur Cross" project was completed in October 1989. Originally open only to vehicles carrying three or more occupants, the HOV lanes now permit vehicles with two occupants.
Also during the late 1980's, ConnDOT widened the multiplex carrying I-84, US 6, US 7 and US 202 through Danbury (between EXIT 3 and EXIT 8) from four to six lanes, providing some relief for one of the worst bottlenecks in the state.
Finally, in downtown Hartford, an 11-year-long project to reconstruct the I-84 / I-91 interchange was completed in 1998. With the construction of additional ramps between I-84 and I-91, the project provided direct freeway-to-freeway access for the first time. During the $115 million project, ConnDOT moved and deleted several other ramps, widened the nearby Founders Bridge (CT 2), and constructed a 1.5-acre landscaped park (Riverfront Plaza) over I-91.
This 2000 photo shows the westbound I-84 at EXIT 61 (I-291) in Manchester. Access to I-384 (at EXIT 59 just ahead) was added in 1986, and to I-291 in 1994. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: In recent years, ConnDOT has developed plans for reconstructing I-84 between Danbury and East Hartford. These plans are outlined as follows:
DANBURY TO WATERBURY: In 2007, ConnDOT began planning and environmental studies to widen I-84 to six lanes from the New York-Connecticut border east to EXIT 3 (US 7 Expressway-Southern Section) in Norwalk, to eight lanes from EXIT 3 east to EXIT 8 (Newtown Road) in Danbury, and to six lanes from EXIT 8 east to EXIT 18 (Chase Parkway) in Waterbury. Modifications will be made to entrance and exit ramps from the New York-Connecticut border east to Waterbury, including the possible replacement of the three-level "semi-directional T" interchange at EXIT 11 (CT 34) with a conventional diamond interchange to serve Wasserman Way. (EXIT 11 was intended to be the northern terminus of the CT 25 Expressway, which was not built north of Trumbull.) Ramp meter signals also would be considered for some exit ramps. The cost of this improvement is estimated at more than $500 million. About 25 families and about a dozen businesses would be displaced, and some wetlands areas would be affected. Completion of this project most likely would come between 2015 and 2020.
WATERBURY ("MIXMASTER" INTERCHANGE): In 2007, ConnDOT issued a final study on the "mixmaster" interchange (EXITS 19-20) where I-84 is expected to handle 127,000 vehicles per day by 2030. The interchange handles approximately 102,000 vehicles per day (AADT), and is expected to handle 127,000 vehicles per day by 2030. In the 2001-2004 study period, there were 1,491 accidents within one mile of the interchange. A preliminary study released in 2005 found entrance and exit ramps were spaced too close together, and that ramps placed on opposite sides of the highway created dangerous weaving conditions that often required motorists to cross three lanes of traffic at once. The recommended alternative suggests the reconstruction of the "mixmaster" as a conventional four-level stack interchange (similar to the I-84 / CT 9 interchange in Farmington) where the eastbound and westbound roadways of I-84 do not cross each other; it also suggests moving the alignment of the northbound lanes of CT 8 east of the Naugatuck River in the area of the interchange. This alternative is estimated to cost $1.3 billion and is targeted for completion by 2020.
WATERBURY TO HARTFORD: In 1995, ConnDOT initiated a comprehensive study of the I-84 corridor between Waterbury and Hartford. The study recommended widening existing four-lane segments in this corridor to six lanes, widening shoulders, reconstructing substandard overpasses (specifically, raising the clearance of the overpasses), improving interchanges, and implementing enhanced transit options. The first improvements to be implemented under this study will be between EXIT 23 (CT 69-Hamilton Avenue) in Waterbury and EXIT 30 (West Main Street) in Southington. The $164 million project involves widening the existing I-84 from four to six lanes, modifying some interchanges, reconstructing eight bridges and two culverts, building new retaining walls, constructing new service roads, smoothing out curves, and installing a new "incident management system." This project is scheduled for completion in 2008. A second project addressed congestion mitigation and safety improvements at EXITS 34-35 (CT 72 Expressway) in Plainfield. The $6 million project was completed in 2003.
EAST HARTFORD: During the summer of 1999, work began on extending the I-84 westbound HOV lane approximately 1.5 miles from EXIT 54 (CT 2 Expressway) to the Bulkeley Bridge. This project was completed in November 2000. In addition, ConnDOT plans new improvements for the I-84 / CT 2 interchange.
When these capacity improvements are completed - as per the recommendations of the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board - Interstate 84 will have a minimum of six lanes (three in each direction) through the entire state.
According to ConnDOT, I-84 carries approximately 85,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through the Danbury area, rising to 115,000 vehicles per day through the Waterbury area, rising once again to 165,000 vehicles per day through the Hartford area, falling back to 90,000 vehicles per day through the eastern suburbs of Hartford, and diminishing to 45,000 vehicles per day through northeast Connecticut.
In 1998, ConnDOT raised the speed limit to 65 MPH from EXIT 8 (US 6) in Bethel east to EXIT 18 (West Main Street / Chase Parkway) in Waterbury, and from EXIT 57 (CT 15 Expressway Connector) east to the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. Other sections of I-84 are posted at 50 MPH and 55 MPH.
MASS TRANSIT ALONG I-84? In 1998, ConnDOT decided against widening between I-84 Plainville and Hartford to eight general-purpose lanes, in favor of one of the following alternatives: HOV lanes, bus-only lanes or light rail (either in the I-84 median or along existing lines). Nearly one year later, the Capital Region Council of Governments voted to implement a $233 million transportation improvement plan. The "Hartford West Major Investment Study" proposes improving several interchanges and adding auxiliary lanes.
The 1999 "Hartford West" study also recommended building a bus-only roadway away from the I-84 right-of-way. In its final environmental impact statement released in December 2001, ConnDOT adopted "alternative 1" for the New Haven-Britain Busway. The proposed two-lane busway would run along an abandoned Penn Central Railroad right-of-way from New Britain to West Hartford (via Newington). From West Hartford to downtown Hartford, the busway would run parallel to the existing Amtrak line. Several existing bridges would need to be reconstructed to accommodate the busway, and through Fairview Cemetery in New Britain, the busway would be constructed in a trench. While residents fear that their neighborhoods would be adversely affected under this proposal, city officials in New Britain welcome the prospect of a downtown bus depot.
East of Hartford, ConnDOT is considering implementing express bus service along the I-84 HOV lane to Vernon. The construction of express bus stops at EXIT 56 (US 5), EXIT 60 (Middle Turnpike) and EXIT 62 (Buckland Street), as well as the construction of additional park-and-ride lots are part of this proposal.
This 2006 photo shows the air rights park over I-84 in downtown Hartford as shown from the eastbound lanes at EXIT 51 (I-91 SOUTH). (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
AIR RIGHTS PLANNED IN HARTFORD: In 1970, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) recommended utilizing air rights over and under a 3.3-mile stretch of I-84, as part of a redevelopment of downtown Hartford. Plans included the construction of new parks, apartment complexes, shopping and commercial centers, and an expanded Union Station transportation center. Except for an "air rights" park constructed over I-84 near the I-91 interchange, these plans never were realized.
More than three decades later, the idea of reconnecting parts of Hartford separated by the elevated I-84 is getting a second look. Bill Mocarsky, a musician from Manchester, proposed to ConnDOT that I-84 and its connecting ramps (known locally as the "Aetna viaduct") should be lowered in some sections, and that landscaped platforms be constructed over the highway in other sections. Rich Linnemann, a planner with ConnDOT, believed that such a project would be difficult and expensive, as it would involve relocating streets, railroad tracks and parking lots, in addition to causing disruption along I-84.
This 2000 photo shows the westbound I-84 at EXIT 39A (CT 9 Expressway) approaching Farmington. Constructed in the mid-1960's, this four-level interchange was originally intended for I-291, which was mostly canceled in 1979. This interchange remained unused until 1992, when the CT 9 Expressway was completed. Unused ramps to and from the unbuilt I-291 (north of I-84) remain as vestiges of past plans. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
SIX LANES WEST TO NEW YORK STATE: I-84 should be expanded to six lanes, and to eight lanes at selected locations, between Newburgh and Hartford. Interchange improvements, including the elimination of left-hand entrances and exits, should be made wherever possible.
SOURCES: "Freeways Are Now Urged," The New York Times (12/13/1936); "Connecticut Opens an Auto Tunnel, Last Link in Wilbur Cross Parkway," The New York Times (11/02/1949); "Preliminary Report on Alternate Relocation of Interstate Route US 6 from Cheshire to Newington, and Cheshire to Farmington," Alfred Kaehrle and Associates (1956); Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Connecticut Highways (1959-1963), Connecticut Highway Department (1963); Connecticut Highway Needs, Connecticut Highway Department (1967); "Estimate of the Cost of Completing the National System of Defense Highways in Connecticut," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Highway Department (1968); "I-84 Environmental and Joint Use Study," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1970); "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); Greater Hartford Study, Connecticut Department of Transportation (1980); "Connecticut Drops Plan To Extend I-84 to the Border" by Richard L. Madden, The New York Times (8/23/1983); Connecticut's Historic Highway Bridges by Bruce Clouette and Matthew Roth, Connecticut Department of Transportation (1991); "Needs Deficiency Analysis in the I-84 Corridor from Waterbury to Hartford: Final Report," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1995); "Berger, Lehman Associates To Design I-84 Reconstruction in Connecticut," Infrastructure News (October 1998); "From Here to There," Simon Pure Productions (1998); "Hartford West Major Investment Study," Connecticut Department of Transportation (1999); "Residents Concerned About Traffic Snags During Highway Project," The Associated Press (1/12/2000); "East Hartford Officials Want Road Improvements in Return for Stadium Site," The Associated Press (1/25/2000); "The Future of I-84" by Martin Schneider, The Danbury News-Times (6/18/2000); "Truck Stop and Rest Area Parking Study," Connecticut Department of Transportation (2000); "I-84 Funds May Wait" by Martin Schneider, The Danbury News-Times (1/15/2001); "Bus Corridor Plans Studied" by Karen Guzman, The Hartford Courant (2/23/2001); "Fixing Exit 6: Busy Interchange First in Line for Federal Funds " by Martin Schneider, The Danbury News-Times (7/11/2001); "Inventory of Comparative Decking Projects," Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas (2001); "Draft Report of the Working Group on the Movement of Goods," Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board (2002); "Tunnel Vision for City" by Tom Condon, The Hartford Courant (5/13/2003); "'Mixmaster' Design Flaws Pointed Out" by Randy James, The Waterbury Republican-American (3/04/2005); "Planning More for I-84" by Mark Langlois, The Danbury News-Times (4/22/2005); Berger, Lehman Associates; Erich Bachman; Jay Hogan; Owen McGaughey; Mike Moroney; Dan Pagliaro; Mike Petrucci; Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky.
I-84 and I-86 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company. HOV signs by C.C. Slater.