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 highways.
Although Pratt & Whitney has downsized significantly over the decades, and Renstchler Airport no longer exists, new tenants (including the University of Connecticut football stadium) have begun to fill the area in.
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.
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.
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.
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 first major tenant of Rentschler Field was a 40,000-seat football stadium for 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.
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:
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?