December 16: First Connecticut Stretch of Interstate 84 Opens


By the 1950s, overcrowded highways became an increasingly familiar annoyance to Connecticut commuters as the state basked in post-WWII economic prosperity and the increase in population — and automobile traffic — that came with it.  At the time, most of Connecticut’s inland east-west travel utilized U.S. Route 6, an old and overburdened road that stretched across the country from California to the tip of Cape Cod and passed through the middle of Hartford.  Talks to replace the strained Route 6 with a new limited-access highway system began in the late 1940s, but remained unrealized until 1956, when the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act promoting and funding the construction of a new nationwide interstate system was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1958, Connecticut Governor Abraham Ribicoff designated the construction of a replacement for Route 6 a top priority for his administration, and the very next year, the Connecticut General Assembly voted on concrete plans for a new east-west highway, christening it the “Yankee Expressway.”  In keeping with the newly-established national numbering system, Route 6’s replacement would also be known as Interstate 84.  Like the Merritt Parkway before it, Interstate 84 was built and opened in several consecutive stages, starting at the western border of the state in Danbury and working its way eastward toward Hartford.  On December 16, 1961, the first stretch of I-84 opened to the public, a 15-mile stretch  winding its way from the New York state line through Danbury, Bethel, and Brookfield before terminating (temporarily) in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown.  It would take another eight years for the highway to reach Hartford, and another twenty to reach Massachusetts, where I-84 quickly dovetails into I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike).  The 98 miles of Interstate 84 that wind through the Constitution State cost a total of $128.3 million at the time of construction.  Paradoxically, while I-84 successfully relieved local roads of daily traffic, it ushered in further suburban growth that led to widespread traffic jams on the interstate itself — a problem that civil engineers are still trying to mitigate to this day.  Even with the debut of a new and much-welcomed interstate in the western part of the state, the open road didn’t remain very open for long — today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Scott Oglesby, “Connecticut Roads: Interstate 84,”

A Brief History of Transportation in Hartford,” The I-84 Hartford Project