Wild history about Connecticut Turnpike
By Peter Samuel
Some wild history gets around. Bill Stanley writes in the Norwich CT Bulletin newspaper this weekend that Connecticut built "the first turnpike." In fact it was one of the later state turnpikes.
It started construction in 1955 and opened in 1958.
A bunch of states built their tollroads or turnpikes earlier:
- Pennsylvania 1940 (160mi), OH-NJ 1954
- Maine Turnpike 1947 (54mi)
- New Hampshire Turnpike 1950
- New Jersey Turnpike 1952 (122mi)
- Ohio Turnpike 1955 (241mi)
- New York State Thruway 1956 (426mi)
- Indiana Toll Road 1956 (157mi)
- Garden State Parkway 1957 (172mi)
- Massachusetts Turnpike 1957 (123mi)
- Florida's Turnpike 1957 (111mi)
The promise of plentiful gas tax revenue from the 1956 Federal Aid Highway bill was killing state tollroads by the time Connecticut got around to its.
Stanley also writes: "The Connecticut Turnpike was paid for by the people of Connecticut and later foolishly given to the federal government."
The Turnpike was paid for by the motorists who used it which certainly included plenty of Connecticut drivers. But it always carried substantial interstate traffic, so motorists from nearby states also contributed.
"...given to the federal government."?
The Connecticut Turnpike was never given to the federal government.
It has always been the property of the state of Connecticut. Unfortunately it was not built or managed by a specialized turnpike agency like most state turnpikes. It was run by the state highway commission that was responsible for tolled and non-tolled roads alike.
Lacking a revenue stream and staff of its own the Connecticut Turnpike was poorly maintained and managed.
1983 set the stage for its demise as a tollroad. In January a fiery blaze killed seven people in a rear-end collision at the mainline toll plaza in Stratford. Then in June the Mianus River bridge near Greenwich collapsed, MN/I-35W-style.
The Turnpike was in serious disrepute, and politicians competed with one another to promise the end of tolls.
Its eight barrier toll plazas ceased collecting tolls Oct 9 1985.
Since that time Connecticut has accepted federal grants for improvements to the Turnpike. Those grants have strings. Maybe that's what the local historian means by "giving it" to the federal government?
For a history see http://www.nycroads.com/roads/ct-turnpike/
ADDITION: Stanley tells us age must be catching up with him (Doesn't he know that is not allowed?) and he was thinking of the Merritt Parkway not the Connecticut Turnpike. The Merritt Parkway was indeed one of the very early tollroads in the automobile era, and a beautiful and innovative piece of design.
The Merritt Parkway opened at the end of June 1938. Tolls were first collected a year later. It was a tollroad for 49 years, tolls being taken off in Jun 25 1988.
It's a fun road to drive on. And very pretty. Gorgeous bridges.
With its tight lanes and terrain following design you can get the feel of driving 90mph and look at the speedometer and see you're only doing 55mph.
The Parkway and the Turnpike go parallel with one another for almost 30 miles (50km).
The history of the Parkway is nicely described in a book by Bruce Radde "The Merritt Parkway" Yale Univ Press.