East Hartford's transportation system has long been dominated by
location (across the river from Hartford) and industry (Pratt & Whitney
Aircraft on Main Street, which once employed about 30,000 people).
Some of Connecticut's first expressways (Route 2 and Route 15) were
built in East Hartford, and some of the area's many cancelled expressways
(I-284 and I-491) were planned there as well. Had those been added
to the city's existing thru routes (I-84, Routes 2 and 15), some
estimates say 10% of its developable land would have been occupied by
Although Pratt & Whitney has downsized significantly over the decades,
new uses (such as a college football stadium) are planned or already in operation
for the area. The first decade of 2000 may see significant transportation
changes to accommodate them.
This page covers road history and issues in the city, with links to more information.
In the 1800s, three toll roads passed through East Hartford.
From about 1810 to 1870, the Boston Turnpike extended from a ferry crossing
near today's Bulkeley Bridge, through Manchester, Mansfield, and Pomfret,
continuing toward Boston. From about 1800 to 1850, the Hartford and New London
Turnpike followed the old Routes 2 and 85 to New London. From 1801 to about 1850,
the Hartford and Tolland Turnpike extended to the courthouse in Tolland
(a local street named "Tolland Turnpike" reflects this).
In 1922, a new network of New England numbered roads was created, and within a year
Connecticut had started a system of statewide numbered roads. New England Route 3
followed US 6 from Danbury toward Cape Cod, but used Silver Lane through
East Hartford. New England Route 2 followed today's US 5; and
New England Route 17, a diagonal cross-state route, followed
the original Route 2.
Main Street (now mostly SR 517) was widened to four lanes divided in the early 1940s.
At the time, it was part of Routes 2 and 15.
The city's first limited-access highway (1942) was the Charter Oak Bridge and approaches, with a
cloverleaf at Main Street and terminus at Silver Lane. This is part
of the Wilbur Cross Highway, which was extended to Vernon within the
following few years, and eventually to the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The bridge today carries US 5 and Route 15.
In 1952, the East Hartford-Glastonbury Expressway
opened, extending from Main Street (Route 2, exit 5A) south to Route 17.
Today, it's part of Route 2, a highway that was completed to Pitkin Street
around 1962, and to the "Mixmaster" interchange at I-84 in 1965.
The Interstate Era
If all planned highways had been built, East Hartford would be served (or severed)
by three interstates, barely missing a fourth. I-84 was complete by 1965, although
the portion east of Route 15 would be reconstructed in the 1980s.
The widest portion of any highway in Connecticut -- 12 lanes, including two HOV
lanes -- is on I-84 in East Hartford.
One of the state's most intricate interchanges is the "Mixmaster", a five-pointed
star connecting I-84 east, the Bulkely Bridge (84 west), the Founders Bridge,
Route 2 south ("east"), and a planned I-284 which was later cancelled.
The interstate highway just missing East Hartford opened in 1994: Interstate 291.
... which leaves the most controversial highway planned for the city:
Interstate 491 (later I-86), which would have connected the Putnam Bridge in
Glastonbury to the I-84/384 interchange in Manchester. I-491 and I-291
would have combined for a full loop around Hartford. East Hartford largely
considered I-491 to be one highway too many, and it was cancelled in 1973.
More information: I-84, I-86/491,
Relieving Choke Points
Pratt & Whitney workers reach I-84 via a gate intersecting Silver Lane
at Roberts Street; just north on Roberts is the I-84 interchange.
In the 1960s, traffic was already heavy enough that the state studied
grade-separating Roberts Street at Silver Lane and adding access ramps.
Studies for anticipated 1990 traffic volumes projected required four lanes
each direction on Silver Lane, and five lanes each direction on Roberts,
if an at-grade solution was pursued. This was too wide to be feasible.
In 1967, the General Assembly ordered a study for an interchange there.
Two alternatives were later studied: a partial cloverleaf across Silver Lane
from I-84; and a bidirection access road from Silver Lane across from
Gold Street (Gold at Silver... wow). In both cases, Roberts Street would
overpass Silver Lane.
Neither plan was implemented, and over time traffic improved by itself
as Pratt employment shrunk. But keep reading: these plans may be dusted
off after all.
Repurposing Rentschler Field
East Hartford has been densely developed for quite some time, and it might surprise
you that until the mid-1990s there was an airport, with a 6,500 foot runway,
able to accommodate jet traffic. Rentschler Field, a private airport for
Pratt & Whitney use, was closed around 1995, and parent corporation
United Technologies donated 75 acres to the state for development.
Its proximity to Hartford and major highways makes the Rentschler site
a prime location.
An early proposal for the site was a Six Flags theme park. Traffic studies
showed that the main access points - Roberts Street, Willow Street and Main
Street (Route 2 Exit 5A) would become choke points, and the city lobbied
for improvements including new ramps from Route 2 and I-84, and a new
connector road called East Hartford Boulevard.
The Six Flags plan, however, was not implemented.
The New UConn Stadium
The first major tenant of Rentschler Field will be a new football stadium.
Construction started In late 2000 on a 40,000 seat facility that
will host the University of Connecticut Div. 1-A football team and
other events. It opened on Aug. 30, 2003, to open the fall season.
East Hartford officials asked for new ramps and roads similar to the Six
Flags plans, totaling $57 million. In 2000, however, ConnDOT said it had
determined that the stadium would not require the same level of road
improvements as Six Flags would have. When the city said it would turn down
the stadium if the roads were not built, Gov. John Rowland said there
were three other cities with sites, and gave East Hartford a deadline to
decide. The city decided to accept the stadium without the roads,
and later Rowland admitted the other three cities didn't exist.
Rentschler Access Plans Still on Table
The Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) in 2001 issued
a Summary of Recommendations for several transportation corridor studies,
including access to Rentschler Field. These include:
- Grade separation at Silver Lane (SR 502) and Roberts Street (SR 518):
either an overpass or flyover from nearby I-84 leading into the site.
- New town road from Roberts Street through the site to Main Street
at Route 2 ("East Hartford Boulevard)
- New ramps from Route 2 to EH Blvd, and possible improvements to Route 2.
I hope you enjoyed the East Hartford page. With all this text and no pictures,
it must have been a bit of an ordeal! Why not take a break, stand up and stretch?
- "Planning study, grade separation and access connections at Roberts Street and Silver Lane Intersection East Hartford." State Highway Commissioner's Office, 1968.
- "East Hartford wants roads if it gets UConn stadium." Associated Press, Jan. 27, 2000.
- "I-84 Flyover Ramp Seen As A Path To Jobs." Hartford Courant, March 26, 2001.
- "Rentschler Field - Data Bank." Web site, Capital City Economic Development Authority. http://www.cceda.state.ct.us/rentschler/rent_databank.htm, July 31, 2002.