January 2: The Connecticut Turnpike Opens


January 2nd remains a date in Connecticut history that is bound to provoke strong feelings among the state’s road warriors: On this day in 1958, the Connecticut Turnpike — better known today as Interstate 95 — first opened to the public.

The course of the well-traveled highway largely paralleled the path of U.S. Route 1, a major north-to-south route stretching from Maine to Florida.  The portion of Route 1 that passed through Connecticut, in turn, closely followed the centuries-old post roads that ran east to west from the Rhode Island to the New York border through Connecticut’s coastal towns.  Even though Route 1, and later Interstate 95, run east-west through the state of Connecticut, they are consistently labeled “North” and “South” because they are technically smaller portions of a larger, multi-state, north-south route (a incongruity that confuses travelers to this day).

Connecticut’s shoreline post roads had been clogged with heavy traffic since the earliest days of the automobile era, with state officials discussing the construction of new parkways as early as the late 1920s.  The Merritt Parkway (Connecticut Route 15), one of the first limited-access highways in the United States that first opened in 1938, was built for the purpose of diverting thru-traffic from local roads, but with more and more Americans owning automobiles in the 1940s and 1950s, larger measures would have to be taken to ease traffic congestion along the Connecticut coast.

An aerial photo of the I-95 and I-91 interchange in New Haven, with the new Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, completed in 2016, undergoing construction in the background. (O&G Industries)

After Connecticut received approval for constructing a new interstate highway route, ground was broken for the new Connecticut Turnpike project in early 1955.  The original route for the Connecticut Turnpike traveled from the New York state border at Greenwich east to East Lyme, where the highway then curved northward to Killingly (essentially the route of today’s Interstate 95 and Interstate 395).  Three years later, after spending a staggering $464 million, Governor Abraham Ribicoff formally proclaimed the first 129 miles of the Connecticut Turnpike open to the public.  Even on its first day, the highway caused plenty of headaches for Connecticut motorists: Several exit ramps were closed, unlabeled, and/or partially finished; signs were missing in several places; most of the highway’s toll plazas were inoperable; and westbound travelers were forced to exit into a dead end road in Greenwich because the bridge crossing the Byram River into New York was not yet finished.  While these issues were quickly remedied, I-95 has remained a crowded thoroughfare and unrelenting source of stress for Connecticut commuters ever since it opened in 1958.  Today, it stands as one of the most congested and highly-traveled stretches of roadway in the United States.  A new era in Connecticut transportation began — for better or for worse — on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Connecticut Turnpike Opens,” connecticuthistory.org

Scott Oglesby, “Connecticut Roads: I-95,” kurumi.com

Throwback Thursday: Connecticut Turnpike (I-95) Through the Years,Hartford Courant