January 2: Interstate 95, “The Connecticut Turnpike,” Opens — & the Headaches Begin


January 2nd is a date bound to provoke strong feelings among our state’s road warriors. Today in 1958, the Connecticut Turnpike — better known now as Interstate 95 — first opened to the public.

The national route of the interstate largely paralleled the path of U.S. Route 1, a major north-to-south highway stretching from Maine to Florida. The Connecticut portion of Route 1, in turn, closely followed the path of centuries-old post roads that ran east to west from Rhode Island to the New York border through Connecticut’s coastal towns.

Connecticut’s shoreline post roads had been clogged with heavy traffic since the earliest days of the automobile era. State officials had discussed constructing 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, opened in 1938. It was built intentionally to divert thru-traffic from local roads, a move intended to ease the coastal traffic congestion. But with more and more Americans owning automobiles in the 1940s and 1950s, the Merritt alone quickly proved insufficient to the task. Larger measures were still needed to ease traffic jams 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)

I-95 was intended to be the solution. After Connecticut received approval for constructing the new interstate highway route, ground was broken for the new Connecticut Turnpike project in early 1955. The original route was to run from the New York state border at Greenwich east to East Lyme, where the highway would then curve 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.

Adding frustration to delay, even though Route 1 and Interstate 95 run east-west all the way through Connecticut, they are consistently labeled “North” and “South” because they are technically smaller portions of a larger, multi-state, north-south route. This incongruity confuses travelers to this day.

A new direction in Connecticut transportation began — for better or for worse — today 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