Connecticut’s Suicide Route 6: From Bolton Notch to Windham

Connecticut’s “Suicide” Route 6 is a portion of U.S. Route 6 that begins at Bolton Notch where I-384 ends and continues until the junction of Route 66 and the Route 6 freeway in Windham. This portion of Route 6 is very dangerous and has been cited by Dateline NBC in 1998 as one of the nation’s most dangerous two-lane roads. Many accidents occur on this 11-mile portion of roadway because of poor line-of-sight distance due to a variety of horizontal and vertical grades. Traffic counts on this road has steadily increased in the past several years and is only expected to continue to go up. An expressway should be built between Bolton Notch and Windham that would connect I-384 and the Route 6 expressway in Windham together.

I-84’s intended east end has been changed twice, from I-90 in Sturbridge to Providence, then back again to Sturbridge where it connects today. In late 1968, Connecticut and Rhode Island decided to reroute I-84 east to Providence. This would make a direct route from Hartford to Providence. The existing I-84 going northeast was going to be redesignated as I-86. (see Hartford area map in appendix) Connecticut built two isolated sections of eastern I-84, one in Manchester, which is currently, called I-384, and one in Willimantic, which is currently called US Route 6. Both of these sections were signed as part of I-84. In 1980, the US Council on Environmental Quality said that it couldn’t approve building I-84 in Rhode Island because this would ruin the Scituate reservoir, Providence’s main fresh water supply. In 1983, Connecticut Governor O’Neill said that the state was unlikely to get congressional approval to extend I-84 to I-395. He recommended building the Bolton-Willimantic link and other improvements. As a result, Connecticut renumbered I-86 back to I-84. The link between the two towns, of course, was never built. (Kurumi, CT I-84, para. 9-12)

In 1997, there were 69 accidents on this 11-mile portion of Route 6. There were 2 fatalities and 35 injuries. (DOT Accident Table) Accident data shows that collisions on Route 6 are due to frequent speed changes, turns, lack of shoulders, and lack of passing opportunities. The accidents on this stretch of Route 6 account for 82% of all accidents on the entire Connecticut Route 6 roadway. (DOT, ES-7) In 1990, CTDOT did a study on traffic counts for this stretch of road. They cite that the Average Daily Traffic (ADT) on Route 6 ranged from 18,000 in the Bolton Notch vicinity to 11,900 at the intersection with Route 66 in Columbia. About 50% of the traffic on this portion of Route 6 are through traffic meaning that they go through the entire 11-mile stretch. Most of the average daily traffic is made up of heavy trucks, which influences some drivers to go on alternative routes. (DOT, ES-5) Residents who live on this stretch of Route 6 have difficulty in going in and out of their driveway and it is unsafe to be a pedestrian or a bicyclist on this roadway. Residents who live on the south side of Route 6 have the difficulty of crossing the street to get their mail. School bus service provided by each of the four towns picks up and drops of students using the Route 6 roadway, which causes additional safety concerns. (DOT, ES-7) The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) is currently working on construction of the Route 6 section between Bunker Hill Road to Lindholm’s Corner in Andover.

There will be a new, safer intersection with Lake Road and both ends of Merritt Valley Road will end in cul-de-sacs. The bridge over the abandoned railroad tracks in that vicinity will be replaced with an illuminated tunnel that will be used as a bikeway and walking path. (Ctnow.com, para. 4-7) Across from the bridge Route 6 will be constructed and wider shoulders will be built. The current turning lanes on this portion of Route 6 will be upgraded and new turning lanes will be installed. The sharp vertical curve between Hebron Road and Bunker Hill Road will be flattened to improve the sight distance and the intersection. Sloping and tree clearing will also be done as well as drainage improvements. Some overhead and underground utilities will be relocated. (State Transportation Commissioner, para. 5-6) The cost of the project is $3.7 million and is expected to be completed in November 2000. (DOT News Release, para. 2-5) Construction bids will be advertised in mid-2000 and in late 2000 for two other similar projects on other stretches of Route 6. (Ctnow.com, para. 8) In December 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers said that the planned spot upgrades of Route 6 are not adequate and that the state should look at freeway options. (Kurumi, CT Route 6, para. 16)

One of the alternatives that have been proposed is to make the existing Route 6 into a four-lane highway. (Upgrade 1, see appendix) Critics of building an expressway site the cost of an expressway and the environmental impact that the expressway would have. They say that it would cost $208 million to build the expressway and that at half the cost the current Route 6 could be turned into a four-lane highway. (“Green Scissors”, para. 3) However the CTDOT says in it’s report: “Expanding Route 6 to four travel lanes – even separated by a median barrier – would exacerbate a problem that already exists on Route 6. There would continue to be a mix of through and local traffic, each using the highway in a conflicting manner. Local drivers would continue to make frequent turns on and off the highway at over 200 intersections and private driveways. Through drivers would try to get from one end of the corridor to the other as quickly, though not necessarily as legally, as possible. The speed variations created by local traffic would clash with the higher, constant speeds of the through traffic, creating a greater potential for accidents.” (DOT, ES-8) CTDOT also performed an analysis to see if a bypass section would help Route 6. The bypass sections would have limited access to intersections with local roads. They concluded that a bypass section would lower the number of accidents rather than the “No Build” option but would not lower it to the degree a new expressway would. (DOT, ES-11)

The other options the CTDOT has considered is upgrading Route 6 to four lanes but adding a two lane road on either side of the expressway (Upgrade 2, see appendix). Local traffic would use the two lane roads that would provide access to local roads. Those traveling on the four-lane Route 6, however would be denied access to these local roads. This would separate the local traffic from the through traffic.

The other option is to build a freeway that would be 12.5 miles long that would go south of the existing Route 6 (Alignment 18/25, see appendix). This would go through the middle of Bolton, Andover, and the northern portion of Columbia. It would have an interchange at Route 87 in Andover. Another option is to build an expressway that would go completely north of the existing Route 6 and go through the northern part of Bolton, the middle of Coventry as well as the eastern quarter of Coventry. (Alignment 49, see appendix) The last option is to build an expressway that would go partly north of the existing Route 6 and going through the northern part of Bolton, the western quarter of Coventry, the northeastern quarter of Andover, and the southern quarter of Coventry. (Alignment 54, see appendix) If an expressway were built, Hartford and Willimantic would be linked together by one four-lane highway. Currently, Willimantic’s businesses depend on Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) students and faculty, University of Connecticut (UConn) students and faculty, and local residents. An expressway would encourage residents from Hartford and Manchester to visit Willimantic and help the local Willimantic economy. Also such an expressway would help encourage local residents and students in the Willimantic area to visit both Manchester and Hartford. However, when looking at building an expressway, it is important to see what impact this would have on the local environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told the Army Corps of Engineers on June 15, 1998, that the CTDOT’s Route 6 expressway proposal, alignment 49, would cause “severe impacts to valuable wetlands and wildlife habitat in central Connecticut, would violate the federal Clean Water Act, and should not be granted a permit”. “Fixing the safety problems on Route 6 can and must be done without ruining one of the most environmental valuable landscapes in central Connecticut,” said John DeVillars, administrator of EPA’s New England Office. Of the four options: upgrading the existing road, building an expressway south of Route 6, building an expressway north of Route 6, or building an expressway that is partly north and partly south, the EPA would only oppose one, an expressway entirely north of Route 6. If CTDOT built an expressway entirely north of Route 6, it would destroy 44 acres of wetlands, cross several key sections of the Hop River, and would fragment hundreds of acres of intact wildlife habitat. (EPA, para. 3-4) This is the second time the state has proposed to build an expressway north of Route 6. In 1989, the state proposed building an expressway on nearly the same alignment and their permit was rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers. Since then, the EPA has gone to dozens of meetings and wrote many letters urging the CTDOT to create other alternatives. “CTDOT’s endless pursuit of an expressway that it has known for so many years is a nonstarter – leaving Route 6’s safety problems unaddressed all the while – is plainly wrong from both an environmental and a safety standpoint,” said John DeVillars. (EPA, para. 6-8)

The Route 6 project has not been the only project ConnDOT has never finished. Route 11 is a half-completed freeway that goes from Route 2 in Colchester and ends abruptly at Route 82 in Salem (see appendix). The CTDOT in 1953 planned for the road to continue to New London to allow motorists to connect to I-395 and I-95. Currently, motorists in Salem must use Route 82 and Route 85, both two-lane roads, to continue to New London. In 1993, the project was dropped but recently has been reviewed because of increased traffic due to the Indian casinos in Montville and Ledyard. (Kurumi, CT Route 11, para. 1-4) I propose that an expressway be built south of the existing Route 6. Either alignment 18 or 25 should be looked at in detail. This expressway should be an extension of I-384 and exits should continue to count up and the current Route 6 expressway should also add exit numbers. This would help ease confusion for motorists. The current spot upgrades being done on Route 6 may increase safety to some degree but more emphasis should be placed on building an expressway. An expressway may cost more than the current spot upgrades but would definitely be worth the money and would greatly benefit northeastern and northcentral Connecticut.

“Accident Totals for US Route 6, I-384 to CT Route 66”. Connecticut Department of Transportation. “Connecticut Official Tourism Map 1998-1999”. Connecticut Office of Tourism. State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. 1999. “Executive Summary”. US 6 Bolton Notch to Windham Expressway. Connecticut Department of Transportation. Courtesy of Windham Regional Council of Governments. “Executive Summary”. US 6 Bolton Notch to Windham Expressway. Connecticut Department of Transportation. Courtesy of Windham Regional Council of Governments. “EPA tells Army Corps to say ‘No’ to CTDOT’s Route 6 Proposal”. EPA: United States Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/region01/pr/files/061698b.html. Released 16 June 1998. Accessed 8 November 1999. “Green Scissors ’97 – Route 6 Expressway, Connecticut”. http://www.foe.org/eco/scissors97/rte6.html. Accessed 8 November 1999. “Kurumi: Connecticut Route 11”. “Connecticut Roads. Small State. Big Site.” http://www.kururmi.com/roads/ct/ct11.html. Released 1 Sept 1999. Accessed 9 December 1999. “Kurumi: Connecticut US 6”. “Connecticut Roads. Small State. Big Site.” http://www.kurumi.com/roads/ct/us6.html. Released 1 Sept 1999. Accessed 5 November 1999. “Kurumi: Interstate 84”. “Connecticut Roads. Small State. Big Site.” http://www.kurumi.com/roads/ct/i84.html. Released 12 Oct 1999. Accessed 16 November 1999. “Kurumi: Signmaker”. (Appendix road signs). Accessed 6 December 1999. “Notice to Editors and News Directors”. Connecticut Department of Transportation. http://www.state.ct.us/dot/news/releases/advise/6and1104.htm. Accessed 8 November 1999. “Route 6 Getting, Well, A Little Better”. www.ctnow.com. wysiwyg://69//http://www.ctnow.com/script…ype=Article&eeid=609661&ck=&ver=hbl.2.20. Accessed 18 November 1999. The Hartford Courant. 30 September 1999. “State Transportation Commissioner”. “News Release”. Connecticut Department of Transportation. http://www.state.ct.us/dot/news/releases/advise/imad0218.htm. Accessed 8 November 1999.

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