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THROWBACK THURSDAY: Exit 29 evidence of abandoned highway through Southington, Cheshire

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Exit 29 evidence of abandoned highway through Southington, Cheshire

reporter photo

An unusually long exit off Interstate 84 is among the only remaining evidence of decades-old transportation plans that included a Route 10 freeway connecting Cheshire and Southington.

Concerns about traffic on Route 10 go back to the 1940s and planners suggested a new or expanded road to bring cars from New Haven to I-84. The opposition of Cheshire residents helped kill the plan to widen Route 10 into a highway or move it during the 1970s.

Alternate routes for the freeway running north to south were near Cheshire Street, crossing Yalesville and Wallingford roads. Building the freeway west of the existing Route 10 would have sent it along Peck Lane, Mountain and South Brooksvale roads into Hamden.

Widening Route 10 had the most support, according to Morning Record articles from the time, but there was concern about altering Cheshire’s historic center and taking frontage from houses along the road.

An article from September 1974 cites a 1947 study showing 5,000 cars per day along Route 10.

“Since the 1940s town reports and development plans have anguished over how to relieve congestion,” the article said.

Bill Voelker, Cheshire’s town planner, said the idea of a limited access highway through Cheshire was “terrible.”

“It would have completely changed the face of Cheshire, completely. And not in a good way,” he said. “You basically bisect the community with a four-lane expressway.”

State Road 597, still visible as exit 29 off I-84 in Southington, was originally built as a connector between I-84 and Route 10 to service the abandoned Route 10 expressway. Extending SR 597 was then suggested by Southington officials as an alternative for connecting I-691 with I-84, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation study from 1978. That plan was opposed and eventually abandoned since it would have traversed wetlands and the Quinnipiac River.

Exit 29 is now just a long ramp over Canal Street to Route 10 and Mulberry Street in Plantsville.

Tim Slocum, a Cheshire town councilor, said he graduated high school in 1974 as the town was fighting the Route 10 expressway plans. He remembers talk of transportation development along the railway line.

During those years, Slocum said residents were becoming more concerned about the loss of Cheshire’s natural lands and its village charm. A major housing boom was underway and there were attempts to preserve open space, such as land around Roaring Brook Falls.

“It was the years of awareness,” Slocum said. “It was when people were opening their eyes to all things green.”

According to Morning Record articles from 1974, nearly 600 residents packed the Cheshire High School auditorium to oppose the expressway, calling it a “blueprint for the destruction of the town.”

Former Town Planner William Blitz was quoted in the article as saying the state’s plan “would benefit people going through Cheshire and not the people of Cheshire.”

Voelker, a former planner in Simsbury, said he saw old plans in that town for an expressway along Route 10.

“I start laughing when I see that. Can you imagine a place like Simsbury like that?” he said.

Building highways to connect suburbs and cities was in vogue decades ago, but Voelker said easy access came at the price of destroying neighborhoods and cutting up cities such as Hartford and Waterbury. A highway through Cheshire would have meant much less contact between residents on the east and west sides of town.

“You’d have neighbors that would have never met, you’d separate people from each other,” he said. “It would have been a terrible idea. Thankfully it was never implemented.”

Twitter: @JBuchananRJ