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, which funded construction of a new nationwide interstate system, was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1958, Connecticut Governor Abraham Ribicoff designated replacing Route 6 a top priority for his administration, and the very next year, the Connecticut General Assembly voted 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, the limited-access four-and-more lane highway was hastened into production despite efforts by nationally renowned urban expert Lewis Mumford and a group of city planners to stop all urban interstate highway construction until comprehensive land use plans could be developed. Mumford, an outspoken critic of mid-20th-century America’s obsession with the automobile, argued that the 1956 legislation creating the Interstate system was jammed through to favor “the second mistress that exists in every household right alongside the wife–the motor car.”
Interstate 84 was built and opened in several stages, starting at the state’s western border in Danbury and working its way east toward Hartford. On December 16, 1961, the first segment 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 took another eight years for the highway to reach Hartford, and another 20 for it 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 suburban growth that led to widespread traffic jams on the interstate itself — a problem Mumford had anticipated and civil engineers are still trying to mitigate. Despite the debut of a new and much-welcomed interstate in the western part of the state, the open road did not remain very open for long — today in Connecticut history.
Scott Oglesby, “Connecticut Roads: Interstate 84,” kurumi.com
“A Brief History of Transportation in Hartford,” The I-84 Hartford Project