Never completed, Interstate 491 would have bypassed Hartford to the southeast, connecting I-91 in Wethersfield to I-84 in East Hartford. The 8.2-mile, eight-lane freeway was once planned for completion by 1975, but met strong local opposition in the late 60s and early 70s. In 1973, when new "trade-in" rules allowed Connecticut to apply the federal share of funding to other state projects, I-491 was cancelled.
A portion of the planned bypass survives as Route 3, which is a freeway from I-91 to Route 2. Route 3's four-lane Putnam Bridge over the Connecticut River is only the north half of the planned twin-deck bridge, which would have carried eight lanes over the river. The bridge opened December 31, 1958.
A Southern River Crossing
In the early 1940s, the state had finished the Merritt Parkway, started the Wilbur Cross Parkway, and was evaluating alternatives for the Wilbur Cross near Hartford. At first, two bridges were planned for the area, one north of Hartford, and one south. The parkway would continue on a northeasterly path toward Boston.
However, funding restrictions and the need for faster improvements in the Hartford - New Haven corridor convinced the state to instead use the Berlin Turnpike and new Charter Oak Bridge, instead of building a new expressway and southern crossing. As time passed, the need for a bridge and highway further out from the city than the Charter Oak became apparent.
I-491 is born, at least on paper
In 1955, three cross-state interstates (84, 91, and 95) and one urban interstate (I-491) were allocated to Connecticut. Traffic studies had shown that the Charter Oak Bridge and Wilbur Cross Highway, even when widened, would not be sufficient for traffic volumes in the area, and an additional expressway at a new location would be the best solution. The U.S. Bureau of Public Roads agreed, and approved the inclusion of I-491 in the interstate system. In November 1958, this was approved by AASHO. (In 1959, Interstate 291 was approved, complementing I-491 for a three-quarters complete beltway around Hartford.)
In December 1956, the Highway Department met with East Hartford officials to lay the groundwork for further discussions about the I-491 alignment in that city. In early 1957, the Putnam Bridge was laid out, along with its expressway approaches. Preliminary design for I-491 was done in 1959, and public hearings were held late that year.
The purpose of the planned expressway was to relieve traffic not only on I-84 and the Charter Oak Bridge, but also Forbes Street (a north-south street in central East Hartford) and Silver Lane (east-west SR 502).
Design criteria in 1959
Interstate 491 was originally designed to serve traffic in the target year 1985. Interstate 84 would be widened to 8 lanes; the relocated US 6 expressway would have 6 lanes; and I-491 would have 6 or 8 lanes, with a median of at least 45 feet, and a right-of-way of at least 300 feet.
Design alternatives in 1959
The expressway termini were relatively fixed: in the west, I-491 would use the Putnam Bridge; in the east, it would connect with the Wilbur Cross Highway (I-84) and the planned US 6 relocation leading to Bolton Notch (now I-384). However, several alternate routes were studied in East Hartford before the October 1959 public hearing.
One alternative, called "line A" at the hearing, would have straddled the East Hartford - Glastonbury town line, proceeding due east until the Manchester town line. Afterward, Line A would turn sharply north and parallel Hillstown Road about 1/2 mile east. The road would end at I-84 just south of Tolland Turnpike (near today's exit 62).
Line B would run slightly east of Line A at Hillstown Road, but was otherwise similar. Both Line A and Line B suffered in terms of distance, cost, and traffic service.
Line C was the department's recommended route, and remained the planned alignment until I-491 was cancelled. The expressway would start at I-91 in Wethersfield and cross the Connecticut River using the new Putnam Bridge. In Glastonbury, the highway would provide full interchanges at Main Street/Naubuc Avenue and Route 2.
In East Hartford, the highway would underpass Forbes Street between Maple Street and Landers Road, providing an eastbound offramp and westbound onramp. At Hills Street, just east of Greenwood St, I-491 would provide ramps to and from the northeast. After a full interchange at Forest Street, east of Brewer Street, and a half-diamond to points southwest at Silver Lane, I-491 would end at Interstate 84 near the Manchester town line.
In 1963, the state expected to complete I-491 by early 1965.
I-491 becomes part of new I-86
In 1968, the state's application for a new interstate highway linking Hartford and Providence (via Manchester) was approved by the FHWA. The new highway to Providence would be called Interstate 84. The existing I-84 from Manchester to Sturbridge and the proposed I-491 were given a new number: Interstate 86.
In 1970: "Bury I-86"
In October 1970, the state held another public hearing in Glastonbury. While East Hartford strongly opposed the highway, Glastonbury wanted to make sure its voice was heard. East Hartford contended that more than enough highways crisscrossed it already: by one measurement, seven percent of developable land in the town was occupied by state highways, and building I-86 would increase that percentage to 10. Interstate 86 nee 491 was also on the radar screen in Washington, on a list of "Major Interstate System Route Controversies in Urban Areas."
By that time, the highway's profile had been expanded to eight lanes, widening to 10 around the interchange with Route 2 and at I-84. The project, which included widening Route 2 between exits 5A and 8, was to be completed by the July 1, 1975 deadline for the interstate system.
By 1971, Glastonbury was also opposed to the highway, and Governor Tom Meskill concurred, saying the 12-year-old design was "obsolete." He agreed to meet with protestors. On January 8, they assembled at the State Capitol, brandishing cemetery-style crosses reading "Bury I-86."
Later in the year, the East Hartford Town Council Chairman wrote Senator Abraham Ribicoff asking for help in blocking the route. Meanwhile, the city had proposed an alternate route to the south and east, involving a new crossing over the Connecticut River. In December, however, ConnDOT announced the final route for I-86, which turned out to be the same as the 1959 route.
In 1973: I-491/86 Traded In
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973 introduced new language allowing a state to "trade in" allocated Interstate highway mileage and use the federal funds for other transportation projects, including non-interstate highways and mass transit.
That year, Connecticut canceled the East Hartford portion of I-86, and applied trade-in funds to several projects, including upgrading US 6 east of Willimantic and building Route 9, the Central Connecticut Expressway, from I-91 to I-84.
Further developments in the I-491 Corridor
The Putnam Bridge, part of state route 3, still served traffic well in 1973, but was hamstrung by its substandard freeway connections at both ends. In 1987, Route 3 was made a full freeway in Glastonbury, with interchanges at Main Street and Route 2. In 1994, the interchange at I-91 was upgraded to the I-491 design, with direct connections for all common movements. For more Route 3 information, see: Route 3.
In 1976: I-491 Numbering Revived
In the 1970s, the proposed western segments of I-291 encountered controversy, design changes, a tiny amount of construction, and eventual cancellation.
In February 1976, ConnDOT announced they would change the designation of the proposed southwest leg of I-291 to I-491, with the stated purpose of avoiding confusion with the earlier, larger I-291 plan. (The proposed northeastern I-291 segment, now disjoint from the southwest segment, was still alive.) The I-491 designation had been used earlier for the southeastern bypass from Wethersfield to East Hartford. Some I-291 opponents countered that the new I-491 designation wasn't fooling anyone, or that the number change was actually more confusing to citizens interested in the project. In June 1976, ConnDOT announced it would postpone the number change.