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OP-ED | A Look at Highways That Don’t Exist

by Heath W. Fahle | Jan 3, 2014 12:58am
(4) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion, Transportation

It is rare to see things that don’t exist. But for Connecticut motorists, highways that don’t exist are easy to see. Maintained by self-described “road geek” Scott Oglesby, Kurumi.com catalogs the history of Connecticut’s highways from the early 20th century to the present. While the story of how the state’s roads came to be is an interesting one, the list of highways not built may be more compelling.

Traffic congestion and poor road maintenance are omnipresent problems in the state. The principle cause is too many cars in too little space but apparent highway design flaws (for example, squeezing three times as many cars as intended into one highway) are also at fault.

The Kurumi data highlights that the “design flaws” were really failures to implement initial plans.

The traffic challenges surrounding the Greater Hartford area are well documented, including most recently in a smart piece published by the Hartford Courant about the future of the Aetna Viaduct. The viaduct is one of the region’s most glaring transportation trouble spots. Worse, it divides Hartford in half and consumes valuable real estate in what should be the city’s core. Along with Interstate 91, which separates Hartford from its original purpose for existence, the Connecticut River, the two major thoroughfares stand as ugly reminders of how planning gone awry can turn a city into a shadow of its past.

The coming and much-needed overhaul of the viaduct gives residents an opportunity to reunite Hartford’s broken pieces. Billions of dollars and years of delays and headaches are sure to follow but one hopes the end result will be an I-84 that is at or below surface level to reconnect the city physically.

Had it not been for NIMBYism and other parochial interests (some real, others the stuff of legend), the coming revamp of downtown Hartford may not have been so bad. Kurumi notes at least three major highways that do not exist in the region.

For example, Interstate 291 currently stretches from Manchester to Windsor, but in original form would have connected Rocky Hill with West Hartford in a gigantic circumferential highway around Greater Hartford. Had it been built, tearing down the viaduct and simply letting the city come together would have been possible. The absence of a “complete” I-291 causes much of the region’s traffic dysfunction and promises to make the viaduct replacement much more painful.

Though Hartford and Providence are less than 100 miles apart and are two of southern New England’s largest cities, they remain unconnected by a major interstate highway. Drivers currently go around by taking I-95, I-84, and various connecting roads in Massachusetts, or across the scenic but mostly two-lane Route 6. It is a beautiful drive, especially in autumn, but it is tedious if other drivers are enjoying the scene more than you.

A highway also called I-84 was supposed to cover the distance. An alternative route to the viaduct would have been the I-484 project from I-91 to I-84 through Hartford. The beginning of this highway was built, stretching from I-91 near the Front Street area and ending at Pulaski Circle. The existence of a completed I-484 would have made replacing the viaduct far less problematic.

The statistics on Connecticut’s highways are well documented. The highway system is no match for the traffic that currently uses it and was never meant to be.

While it remains true that Hartford’s transportation challenges are mainly about too many people in too small a space, it is also true that a failure to properly plan and execute a sensible highway system has exacerbated the problem over the years, and every taxpayer and motorist will bear the burden of those failures in the years ahead.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com

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(4) Comments

posted by: Art Vandelay | January 4, 2014  12:27pm

@Heath,
Excellent article.  The NIMBY’s destroyed any hope of a direct interstate from Hartford to Providence, and the I-291 Connector from Farmington to I-91 South of Bradley Airport.
Indeed the Hartford Viaduct, & Waterbury Mixmaster need serious attention.  The state also needs the completion of Rt 11 to New London, Rt-7 from Danbury to I-95, and a serious look at a bridge across L.I. Sound from either Bridgeport or New Haven.  If Connecticut had a governor with the passion for these projects like Malloy did with the Busway, maybe just maybe these projects could become a reality.  Too bad Malloy put his efforts into a “White Elephant” instead of some Golden Gooses.

posted by: Stingy Blue | January 6, 2014  3:48pm

This is an awesome article.  I-91’s use of Connecticut River waterfront is an abomination.

posted by: Tim McKee | January 7, 2014  1:50pm

Republicans love to build highways for CARS- mass transit is the Commie boogeyman and this articles proves it. where is the discussion of light rail? some like route 11 should have never have been build and are roads that destroy forest and really dont speed traffic.
love to take a fast train to boston from hartford but cant!

posted by: PaulW | January 8, 2014  1:15pm

Ah yes.  I think of more highways every time I drive on I-384, the “Ribbon of Hope”.

I do agree however that existing roads in Hartford and Waterbury need attention.

I’d love more mass transit but have no hope for it as long as we keep planning for fifty years ago.

A practical and doable place to start is by improving rail lines for freight. I think there are great gains to be had in increased freight with the potential to spill over into people transit.  Even if it didn’t, it would be benefit enough.

On the admittedly impractical side (at least in our lifetimes) I have a fantasy of light rail lines running down interstate medians with trains full of passengers blowing past people sitting in highway traffic.