November 1: The Wilbur Cross Parkway Opens

 

Today in 1949, 10 long years after construction first began, the Wilbur Cross Parkway finally opened to the public following a formal ceremony at the brand-new West Rock Tunnel adjacent to the New Haven-Woodbridge town line. There, after a motorcade procession through the 1200-foot-long tunnel,  Lieutenant Governor William T. Carroll proclaimed the newest stretch of Route 15 open.  The newly opened highway was named  after Connecticut’s popular governor Wilbur Lucius Cross, who led the state during the worst years of theGreat Depression.

After observing the success of the Merritt Parkway in Fairfield County — the first limited-access highway in the United States — the state of Connecticut decided to invest in extending its new highway system further northward into central Connecticut in 1939. Ten years later, after the Wilbur Cross Parkway was opened, motorists could drive a single stretch of highway from New York City to Hartford and beyond. A driver en route to Massachusetts could make it as far as Vernon before needing to exit and use local roads for the remainder of their trip.

The West Rock Tunnel, now known as the Heroes’ Tunnel, was by far the most expensive piece of the 68 individual projects that made up the Wilbur Cross highway, costing $2 million to build. Its twin barrels burrowed 1,200 feet through solid rock, 200 feet underneath the summit of West Rock. It was the first automobile tunnel in state history and the final link of the new parkway, which helped make the Constitution State a forerunner of the American highway era, beginning on this day in Connecticut history.

Learn more about the remarkable life of Governor Wilbur L. Cross on our GratingtheNutmeg.libsyn.com podcast Connecticut Yankee, Wilbur L. Cross .

A postcard from 1961 shows traffic passing through the West Rock Tunnel in West Haven, part of the Wilbur Cross Parkway.

Further Reading

Scott Oglesby, “The Wilbur Cross Parkway,” kurimi.com

Wilbur Cross Parkway: Historical Overview,” Roads of Metro New York blog