Chapter 7 DOT History



The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 had been the first of a series of federal legislative initiatives to improve highway systems across the country, primarily for purposes of expediting the movement of defense resources. The Interstate Highway System had, therefore, already been born, but federal funds for its completion were lacking. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1952 was the first to authorize federal funds specifically for interstate construction. The federal share of interstate construction increased from 50 to 60 percent with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1954.

Two years later, at the height of the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of the national highway system for defense by promoting the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Under this act, the federal government committed itself to providing 90 percent of the funds necessary to build a National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, which were considered to be the routes of highest importance to the nation. These were to be multi-lane limited access routes connecting principal metropolitan areas, cities and industrial centers; major routes into, through, and around urban areas; and major routes connecting with highways of continental importance in Canada and Mexico. Funds were authorized through 1969 in recognition of the long-term nature of the project and the total mileage was increased from 40,000 to 41,000.

Under the 1956 act, roads were classified into four systems for purposes of identifying routes eligible for federal funding. The Interstate Highway System included the new system of major routes described above. The Federal Aid Primary System consisted of main roads important to interstate, statewide, and regional travel, including rural arterial routes and their extensions into or through urban areas. Rural major collector routes comprised the Federal Aid Secondary System, while the Federal Aid Urban System encompassed arterial and collector routes not including extension of Federal Aid Primary System routes.

In addition to extending the interstate system and setting a rate of funding authorization, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 also created the Highway Trust Fund, a dedicated fund for highway construction. Tax sources for the fund included federal taxes of 3 cents per gallon on motor fuel; 8 cents per pound on tire rubber; 9 cents per pound on tube rubber; and 10 percent of manufacturers' sale price on new trucks, buses and trailers. By law, all funds raised through these user taxes had to be used exclusively for highway construction.

Arguments over the source of funding and the types of roads to be funded had delayed passage of a comprehensive federal highway bill in the past. Truckers wanted city routes built and improved first, farmers wanted roads built from rural to urban areas so they could get their produce to market, and suburban dwellers wanted roads that made their commute to work in the city easier. Some drivers wanted taxes based on the weight of the vehicle, while others wanted the states to bear the cost of funding. These varying special interests finally reached consensus on the proposed federal gasoline tax.


The Department immediately started designing roadways, procuring rights of way and holding public hearings for the interstate system. Connecticut's mileage allocation for construction of the interstate system under the 1944 act included the routes from Greenwich to Stonington, Danbury to Union, and New Haven to Enfield. This allocation was expanded under the 1956 act to encompass two circumferential routes around Hartford. Construction of the interstate system began in earnest in 1958. The primary focus was on I-84 from Danbury to Hartford and on the Hartford-Springfield Expressway (I-91).

Despite the emphasis on the new interstate system, other construction projects already underway continued. The Middletown Expressway, the substructure for the Founders Bridge between Hartford and East Hartford, and the Windsor section of the Hartford-Springfield Expressway were completed in 1956. The Founders Bridge opened to traffic in 1957. The entire length of the Hartford-Springfield Expressway, the first segment of interstate completed in Connecticut, opened in 1960. In 1957, the Hammanasset Connector was completed, as was the Bissell Bridge between Windsor and South Windsor.

Work on the Connecticut Turnpike proceeded, with 45 individual projects in 1956 and 78 contracts in 1957. The turnpike officially opened to general traffic on January 2, 1958, although several sections were incomplete, including the Byram Bridge connecting Connecticut with New York. The bridge and toll facilities, as well as gasoline station/restaurant service areas, were completed and in full operation by 1959.

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Repair and reconstruction activities were prompted by natural forces. On August 18 and 19, 1955, Hurricane Diane dumped torrential rains on the state. Overflowing rivers in the western part of the state and in Hartford destroyed low lying sections of several towns. A second flood struck the state only two months later. The total damage statewide was over $220 million. In November, the General Assembly voted $15.5 million for repairs to state highways and bridges and an additional $14.5 million for local roads and bridges. Repair and reconstruction of local and state roads and bridges continued through 1957.

In July of 1959, Howard S. Ives was appointed the new Commissioner of the Department. He promptly took steps to complete the federally aided projects, including the National Interstate and Defense Highway System, and emphasized research and development. To support this responsibility, the Commissioner promoted the installation of the Department's first electronic data processing equipment for administration, planning and engineering purposes. By the early 1960s, computers were being used in engineering applications. A data processing center had been established by 1964.

The Department underwent another administrative change during this period. The State Traffic Commission, originally established in 1935 and which, among other responsibilities, established speed limits and the location of traffic signals, was transferred from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Highway Department in 1960.

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The Bradley Field Connector between the airport and I-91 opened in July 1961. In 1963 the state conducted its most extensive road building program-39 miles of new road were opened and 75 more miles were started. Major projects included Routes 2, 8, 12, 44 and 72. In 1964, the Department started construction of the "East Hartford Complex Interchange," a maze of ramps, roadways, and structures connecting all the north-south and east-west routes in East Hartford with the bridges over the Connecticut River to Hartford. Many of these projects were the result of Public Act 605 in 1961 which appropriated $150 million in supplemental highway funds.


The county form of government was abolished by the General Assembly in 1959. This meant that there was one less level of government for the Highway Department to deal with in developing and monitoring its programs. In response, legislation passed in 1961 (P.A. 603) called for the functional reclassification of all public roads in Connecticut with the aim of establishing a state highway system. Some roads that had originally been under county control were transferred to the state and other roads became the responsibility of the towns and cities.

The State Highway System consisted of three categories of highway: State Primary Highways, which served the predominant flow of traffic between principal towns in Connecticut and similar towns in surrounding states; State Secondary Highways, connecting and feeder roads supplementing the primary system by serving traffic between smaller towns; and State Special Service Highways, providing access from primary and secondary state highways to federal and state facilities. The Local Road System included all roads not included in the State Highway System, to be developed and maintained by town governments. These consisted of about 80 percent of the public roads in the state.


The impetus for new highway construction was more than just the need for civilian and defense mobility. Many highway plans were also seen as an integral part of urban planning. In the 1950s, the flight to the suburbs had left city centers run down. Some envisioned highways not only bringing residents and shoppers back to the city, but also acting as buffers between residential and industrial areas. An example of a project with such goals was undertaken in New Haven in 1954. The Oak Street Connector, a four-lane highway connecting the Connecticut Turnpike to downtown, was built. Nine hundred families were relocated and slums in the route of the proposed connector were razed. Other urban renewal and economic development projects developed around the connector.

Highways could also be a source of social and economic change in rural areas. That was the reasoning behind the construction of the Connecticut Turnpike from Groton to Killingly, in the eastern portion of the state. The avowed purpose of the four-lane highway in New London and Windham Counties was to stimulate the economy in a relatively depressed region. Once dependent on the textile industry, the eastern portion of Connecticut experienced high unemployment as companies moved south or overseas. The new highway, according to planners, would encourage new businesses and the expansion of existing ones, as well as stimulate the tourist trade. A study conducted by the University of Connecticut for the Highway Department, entitled "The Connecticut Turnpike--A Ribbon of Hope," found a substantial increase in manufacturing employment, in population, in real estate values, and in the number of hotels in areas close to the highway. The conclusion: highways could be used to stimulate economic growth instead of simply following it.

It was soon recognized that people speeding by on highways did not necessarily stop in the city. Instead, commuters used them to reach their suburban homes, shopping malls along expressways in the suburbs attracted additional business from the city center, and the overhead ramps and elevated highways often left wastelands beneath them. During this period, the Highway Department found a growing resistance to highway construction, an attitude not previously encountered.


The concept of transportation as a force for social and economic change extended to mass transportation as well. With the decline of urban centers and the nation-wide call for urban renewal as a backdrop, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 507 in 1961, "Concerning the Establishment of Transit Districts by Municipalities". This was the first in a series of acts enabling municipalities, individually or cooperatively, to form transit districts to supervise private transit companies within their jurisdictions. The intent of the act was to encourage the improvement of transportation options for people within the state, particularly in urban areas.

Transit districts were empowered to establish fares, routes and service standards, establish new transit services, acquire existing transit service property, and issue bonds for acquisition or construction of transit facilities. Transit services, as defined by the act, included bus, rail and other land transportation systems. The act thus provided a mechanism by which local bus service could be preserved and improved at the local level. The preservation of these transit systems was deemed a "public necessity" for the benefit of individual citizens and state commerce alike.

In 1965, the state's commitment to preserving and improving bus services was reaffirmed when the Connecticut Transportation Authority (CTA), which was created in 1963 to support rail passenger services, was authorized to operate or contract for bus services. This step was taken to reverse the decline in bus services which had occurred in the wake of ever-increasing automobile use and growing suburbanization.


In 1961, the New Haven Railroad, which had dominated commuter and freight rail service in Connecticut since the late 1800s, filed for bankruptcy a second and final time, almost 20 years after filing for bankruptcy in the 1940s. This decline was caused by the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the economic prosperity after the war which enabled nearly every family to own a car, and the increased use of trucks and buses for transportation.

The New Haven Line operated by the railroad had been in operation since the mid-nineteenth century, providing commuter rail service from New Haven to New York City. Commuter rail service was (and still is) considered essential to the economies of both Connecticut and New York. With a commitment to maintaining the state's transit opportunities already established by the Transit District Act, Connecticut took a series of actions to save the failing commuter rail. First, in 1963, the Connecticut General Assembly created the Connecticut Transportation Authority (CTA) to study rail passenger services and devise preservation strategies for the New Haven Line. Over the next four years, the CTA's powers were broadened to include buying and selling rail properties and financing rail commuter service. During this time, the General Assembly created the Public Service Tax Fund to support commuter rail service (as well as other forms of public transportation).

By 1965, the state had reached an agreement with the trustees of the New Haven Railroad, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of New York and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to subsidize the line during an eighteen-month federal-state demonstration project. Until December 31, 1966, the commuter rail service was publicly operated, funded two-thirds by HUD and one-sixth each by Connecticut and New York. Connecticut and New York continued the public subsidy of the New Haven Line for two more years, through December 1968.

The objectives of the demonstration program were three-fold: 1) to provide for continuation of service; 2) to gain time for the transition of the service from private to public responsibility; 3) to develop sound improvement plans and negotiate their implementation. The demonstration was an unqualified success.

With the inclusion of the bankrupt New Haven Railroad into the newly formed Penn Central Transportation Company, the New Haven Line commuter service was returned to private sector operation. There it would remain only until 1970 (see next chapter).

In 1961, the Connecticut General Assembly enacted a law, which became a series of statutes, to encourage the bankrupt New Haven Railroad to invest some of its scarce funds in improvements to rail service in Connecticut. The program allowed a railroad that provided both freight and passenger service in Connecticut (i.e., the New Haven Railroad) to apply for and receive an exemption from paying its annual railroad gross receipts tax in return for qualified investments (approved by the Public Utilities Commission) in service, physical plant, and rolling stock.


The Federal Highway Act of 1962 required that urban areas over 50,000 undergo a transportation planning process that is Acomprehensive, cooperative and continuing@ (the 3-C process). Connecticut subsequently initiated a statewide A3-C@ process.

This far-reaching decision later enabled Connecticut to take the forefront in travel demand and air quality analysis. With the advent of main frame computers, the Department was able to develop travel demand models. Home interviews and roadside origin and destination studies were conducted and the information processed to enable the simulation of travel patterns which could then be predicted into the future.

In the early 1960s, the Hartford Area Transportation Study (HATS), the Waterbury Area Transportation Study (WATS) and the Southeast Area Transportation Study (SEATS) were undertaken. In the mid 1960s, the Highway Department, the Connecticut Development Commission (which later became the Office of Policy and Management) and the Department of Agriculture worked together to carry out a comprehensive land use planning study, the Connecticut Interregional Planning Program (CIPP), for the entire state.


Another boost to mass transportation in the 1960s came from the United States government. In 1964, the federal Urban Mass Transportation Act was passed, which recognized that the majority of the nation's population lived in metropolitan areas and that the welfare and vitality of urban areas (dependent as they were upon the satisfactory movement of people and goods) were being threatened by deteriorating.

The act authorized the formation of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) and provided financial assistance for developing improved mass transportation facilities, equipment, techniques and methods, both public and private. The act made grants or loans available through the Housing and Home Finance Agency within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Funds could be used for construction, reconstruction and improvement of facilities and equipment for mass transportation (including buses), and for coordination of mass transit with highways and other transportation modes. Later, in 1968, administration of funds was transferred to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which was created by Congress in 1966.

Under the act, grants for transit facility construction were distributed based on total population and population density. Eighty-five percent of the funds were earmarked for urbanized areas with populations greater than 750,000.


On October 15, 1966, the U.S. Department of Transportation Act was signed into law. The act created a single multimodal federal agency to guide the nation's transportation policy and administration. The purpose of forming the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) was "to assure the coordinated, effective administration of the transportation programs of the Federal Government@ and to develop Anational transportation policies and programs, conducive to the provision of fast, safe, efficient, and convenient transportation at the lowest cost consistent therewith."@

The U. S. DOT became operational in April of 1967, headed by a cabinet-level Secretary of Transportation, and was comprised of a variety of major departments and agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The formation of the U.S. DOT was a harbinger of changing times toward more multimodal planning to meet transportation needes and toward greater flexibility in federal funding programs.