ConnDOT: Chapter 6 DOT History

Chapter 6 DOT History



The end of gasoline rationing, the easing of travel restrictions, the return of thousands of soldiers, and a switch from war production to consumer production marked the end of World War II. These events resulted in a dramatic increase in urban populations and in car ownership. In response to the increase in traffic, the Highway Department conducted extensive traffic counts and traffic studies to provide a basis for future planning. Urban areas showed the most congestion, and it was urban areas that would receive most of the Department's attention. In addition to new construction needs, a 1946-47 study of road conditions indicated the effects of significant deferred maintenance, particularly shoulders, guard rails, and drainage. A 1947 inventory of roads throughout the state discovered that 2,700 miles of local roads were still dirt.

Although war restrictions were lifted, the Department, under the new direction of Dr. G. Albert Hill, still found itself working within limitations. Rising costs, new construction standards, material shortages, and President Truman's emphasis on housing construction over road construction meant many of the state's plans had to remain on hold a while longer. The lack of construction funds was eased in 1947 by Public Act 148, which raised the gasoline tax from three to four cents per gallon. The gasoline tax was the primary source of highway construction funds.

Despite continued shortages, construction did resume. The emphasis was placed on relieving congestion in urban areas by building multi-lane controlled access expressways. The concept of "streamlining," seen in designs for items from automobiles to toasters, appeared in the new science of traffic flow -- keeping the open road open.


The most important post-war project in Connecticut was construction of the Connecticut Turnpike (originally called the Greenwich-Killingly Expressway, until changed by the legislature in 1955). The 129-mile route ran along the south shore from Greenwich to East Lyme, then northeasterly to Killingly (the route of today's I-95 and I-395.) Planning began in 1954 and the first bond was issued that same year. Construction began on January 17, 1955 in the Westbrook-Old Saybrook area, in Norwalk, and in West Haven.

Twenty-six outside engineering firms from across the country assisted the Highway Department's own engineering designers on the design of the Connecticut Turnpike. The project was so large, the Department created a special unit in the engineering division to coordinate work on the Turnpike. Securing rights-of-way and designing the highway presented the largest and most pressing problems. The acquisition of rights-of-way proceeded on a piece-by-piece basis, dictating the pattern of construction. Few substantial lengths of the road could be built at one time, forcing contractors to build a section, move to a new area, build another section, and so on.

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Construction of the war-delayed Wilbur Cross Parkway, including West Rock Tunnel (a major engineering feat in itself), was finally completed and the new route opened in November 1949. The Wilbur Cross Parkway was not planned to be as aesthetically pleasing as the Merritt. It was not a designed landscape, its bridges were far less ornate, and the roadway was located in the approximately center of the 300 foot right-of-way, rather than on one side. The Merritt Parkway, the Wilbur Cross Parkway, and the Wilbur Cross Highway, completed in late 1954, formed Connecticut's first dual lane road across the state.

Bridges received a great deal of attention after the war, particularly since steel and other construction materials were now more readily available. The Raymond E. Baldwin Bridge, spanning the Connecticut River between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme, opened to traffic December 4, 1948, less than two years after construction started, replacing the 1911 drawbridge. A new bridge over the Housatonic River, the Commodore Isaac Hull Bridge, opened to traffic December 17, 1951. Plans were prepared for the Hubbard Street Bridge on the Glastonbury Expressway, the first pre-stressed concrete bridge built in Connecticut.

In 1955, Governor Ribicoff established the Greater Hartford Bridge Authority, which was charged with developing a multi-bridge plan for the Hartford region. The plan included construction of two new toll bridges (Bissell and Putnam), completion of the Founders Bridge, the continued use of the Charter Oak Bridge as a toll facility, and the implementation of tolls on the Bulkeley Bridge. Duties of the Authority were transferred to the Commissioner of Highways in 1959.

For safety and "streamlining," U.S. Route 5 and Connecticut Route 15, from Meriden to Wethersfield, were improved by closing numerous cross-overs and building acceleration and deceleration lanes at the rest of the crossings. Plans were completed for the relocation of U.S. Route 1 between the New York state line and West Haven, improvements to Route 1 in New London and for the Hartford-Springfield Expressway (today's I-91).


The 1950s was a particularly active period of highway-related research. One study by the Connecticut Experiment Station looked at the deterioration rate of the guide rail posts selected for use on the state highway system, for various wood species and preservative treatments. In 1952-1953, a maintenance production study was conducted by the Department in cooperation with the Bureau of Public Roads, the first of its kind in the country. The study surveyed a variety of maintenance practices and concluded that a complete condition survey of roadway surfaces and drainage was essential to determine maintenance progress. The study also discussed types of improvements needed to reduce ordinary maintenance of roadways. Results were reported in a publication of the Highway Research Board. The Department also sponsored a series of research projects undertaken at the University of Connecticut.


In anticipation of the new demands for roadway construction and repair after the war, the Department reorganized in 1949. The eight operating bureaus, seven at Hartford and one at Portland, were reduced to four by the transfer of all field functions to a newly established set of four districts with their headquarters at Hartford, Norwich, New Haven, and New Milford. The field functions included maintenance operations, roadsides and bridges, drainage work, surveys, construction supervision, traffic engineering, and the investigation of complaints, as well as engineering functions related to town-aid road construction.

Each district was headed by a district engineer with four principal assistants: office manager, engineer of surveys and plans, engineer of construction, and maintenance engineer. In the Hartford office, additional technical staff were charged with developing changes and improvements in methods and procedures, and with seeing that field operations were carried out according to standards.

Other changes within the Department included the transfer of the duties of three separate bridge commissions -- Hartford, New London, and Old Saybrook -- to the Highway Commissioner. The transfer included administration of the toll facilities on the toll bridges, and the addition of about 100 employees to the Department roster. Maintenance employees had their work week decreased from 45 hours to 42.5 hours with pay adjustments so they did not experience a decrease in take-home pay.

In the aftermath of the war, the Department actively participated in civilian defense programs. Employees received specific assignments, had their photographs and finger-prints taken for identification, and took a loyalty oath. Another change in the Department came on March 1, 1955, when Newman E. Argraves was appointed the new Commissioner of the Highway Department. During his administration, attention was focused on the development of surveys and plans for the National Interstate and Defense Highway System and other parts of the highway system constructed under federal subsidies (see Chapter 7). This heavy engineering design load employed many consultant engineers directed by the Department's design engineers.


In 1951, the U.S. Navy entered into a 90-year lease with the Connecticut Terminal Company, the operator of the State Pier since 1923, to reserve the northeast side of the pier for Navy vessels. The lease essentially ended in 1991, many years ahead of its scheduled expiration, when U.S. Navy Submarine Squadron 10 was decommissioned.

Content Last Modified on 9/9/2003 10:19:18 AM