[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

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20 July 2006: Scranton, PA to Hartford, CT
 
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22 July 2006: New Bedford, MA to Cape Cod National Seashore/End US 6
 

21 July 2006: Hartford, CT to New Bedford, MA

This is the first part of the final whirlwind of pictures taken on the 16th, spanning portions of three (little but nevertheless full) states. Today we will pass through Connecticut, Rhode Island and the first part of Massachusetts to finish with US 6 east of Massachusetts, the Mid-Cape Highway and Provincetown tomorrow.

As a heads-up, though, stay on after US 6 is done because on the way home we'll look at the American Southwest with our tours of Interstates 19 and 8 before closing down the road log in early August. There's more to come!

Our final day on US 6 starts with odometer 98271.

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Resuming on Interstate 84 in downtown Hartford. Hartford is Connecticut's capital city and the namesake of Hartford county (population 857,183 [2000]), with a population of 121,578 [2000]. Originally an Indian settlement named Sukiaug (or Suckiaug but this seems ripe for derogatory comments ;-), the first Europeans in the region were the Dutch in 1623, who named their new settlement Huys de Hoop ("Hope House"). This had developed into a small fort by 1633 (what is now called Dutch Point), and English settlers arrived two years later from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to found what they called Newtown, later renamed Hartford in 1637 after the English town of Hertford. As they were no longer under Massachusetts' jurisdiction, leader Thomas Hooker established the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in 1638 to officially state that governance was to be established by the people of the new colony. This was ratified in 1639, and is considered by some historians to be one of the forerunners to the U.S. Constitution. Similar to Des Moines, IA, Hartford's major industry is insurance (with the most notable being the Hartford, based right there in town). Battling back from a startling eleven-percent exodus of its population during the 1990s, Hartford is in the midst of a large-scale city redevelopment effort with early promising success.

A word about county government in Connecticut; as a general rule in most states I travel through I intentionally shoot county lines and ignore township lines because in the majority of states townships don't really demarcate changes in road "attitude" or local colour (and there's so many of them that they overload an exhibit), whereas counties usually do represent some change in locality or at least governance. That isn't true in Connecticut where there are no county governments per se; the existence of counties is only for purposes of court jurisdiction, and individual cities and towns take care of the municipal services that a county might handle in other states. As a result, there are no county seats in Connecticut either. Rhode Island also no longer has county governments, but this is not a New Englandism as a whole; Vermont has shire towns that function as seats would in other states and New Hampshire and Maine both have counties and seats in the traditional sense, while Massachusetts is somewhere in the middle with some county governments still in operation contrasted with others that have abolished themselves into purely judicial subdivisions like Connecticut's have.

For this reason it should not be surprising that county lines are unsigned in these three states, but I have continued to try to photograph where they ought to be and eschewed township lines except where relevant in an attempt at consistency in documentation.

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Outside of Hartford, US 6 (and US 44) jump off finally. The original plan was for I-84 to closely follow US 6 into Rhode Island (possibly even co-route or replace it entirely), but concerns over a certain body of water we will look at in a moment scuttled these plans and I-84 was given a more oblique routing instead.

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It almost appears on some maps that US 6 is routed with I-384, I-84's spur out of Hartford. This is actually not true, but they do merge at the end in this small interchange where I-384 terminates.

Past this point, the 2-lane US 6 between here and Willimantic is the infamous "Suicide 6" alignment. A little more history: in 1953, Connecticut started discussing long-range routing plans for highways in the state and US 6 was to be upgraded from Manchester (just outside of Hartford) to the RI state line. This had local support and a 46-mile US 6 expressway routing was approved in 1963 with designation as part of the Interstate system for funding reasons. Approval in 1968 from the FHWA allowed then-Interstate 84 to be routed over US 6 and the first portion of this, what is now I-384 between Silver Lane and Bolton Notch, was built in 1970 with the orphaned section of I-84 renumbered to I-86. A second alignment, the Willimantic bypass (more in a second), was finished in 1971 and also signed as I-84. Things seemed still like a go to run the whole thing into Rhode Island until a screeching halt in 1980 when the US Council on Environmental Quality scuttled the project over questions regarding the project's environmental impact statements. The Federal DOT agreed and killed I-84's proposed routing in Rhode Island; Connecticut then tried to continue with extending I-84 to I-395 in Killingsley, but doubts over its approval prevailed and in 1983 the Governor's office recommended piecemeal improvements instead. In 1984, I-86 reverted to I-84, I-384 was created out of the Manchester freeway alignment, US 6 was left on US 44, and the Willimantic bypass given to US 6. The proposed I-84 corridor to Rhode Island was now officially dead.

This left a large section of US 6 still on two-lane highway between Bolton and Willimantic. This "Suicide 6" alignment earns its name for being one of the most hazardous sections of road in the county, killing two people every year on average. Despite this notorious reputation, the various expressway realignments that have been proposed for it have met even greater community opposition. Scott Oglesby Kurumi has a long discussion over this, and some of his own proposed alternatives. In the meantime, spot improvements such as widening and traffic lights are proceeding along the route.

Ironically, US 6 may return in all its glory as a freeway into Rhode Island in the future. In a 1992 Rhode Island transportation plan, RIDOT officials proposed an upgraded controlled-access alignment going west into Connecticut along much of what would have originally been I-84; feasability studies seemed to show that modern technology could be applied to avoid harm to the water supply region. Concerns over the safety of US 6 in western Rhode Island have also been proposed as a factor in the resurrection of the concept.

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At the end of Suicide 6 is the junction with CT 66. CT 66 carries the old alignment of US 6 through Willimantic, almost a quasi-business route. This was also the eastern terminus of the longest of Connecticut's five ALT US 6's (all gone now), running from Woodbury through Waterbury, Meridien and Middletown (now portions of CT 64, portions of I-84, CT 322, I-691 and portions of CT 66). This particular US 6A was decommissioned in 1968.

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Downtown Willimantic along old US 6/modern CT 66. The name comes from an Algonquian language family term for "good cedar swamp" (!), and is part of Windham county and township with a population of 15,823 [2000].

This scene is of the local textile mill, the old American Thread Company factory that is now the centrepiece of the Windham Textile and History Museum. Once part of the Willimantic Linen Company from 1854 to 1898, the ATC opened its doors on the old site in 1898 with six main buildings, mill number 4 being the largest textile mill in the world until it burned down in 1995. ATC had an up-and-down history, with many immigrant workers finding work there they could get nowhere else but often at substandard wages and in poor working conditions. Finally, ATC closed for good in 1985 after a rocky financial decline and the remaining properties deeded to the Museum. No major industry has sprang up to replace it.

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The freeway bypass, formerly I-84 and now signed as US 6.

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US 6 through eastern Connecticut.

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As we approach the border, US 6 merges with what was once part of the original Connecticut Turnpike between Greenwich and Killingly, and is now an orphaned expressway (unsigned CT 695 [no relation as a spur to I-95 according to Kurumi]).

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State line.

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Obviously our trek in Rhode Island won't be very long but it is made longer by some old and alternate alignments. One significant one is this one through Scituate, named for the town in Massachusetts which in turn was a corruption of the Indian (Algonquian?) term satuit ("cold brook") and with a population of 10,324 [2000]. The old alignment, shown here as a "business" route but actually unsigned, goes to the right. Allegedly the modern alignment was signed or at least planned as BYPASS US 6 but is not signed this way today.

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This is the Scituate reservoir, the major feature that scuttled I-84. Both the modern and "business" alignments cross it, but the "business" one does so on a little bridge dated 1921.

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As we pass into Providence, US 6 splits again into a small ALT US 6 and the main routing, which jumps onto I-295 briefly before becoming a freeway.

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US 6A is not very scenic and mostly a short urban stub. This was the former routing of US 6 before US 6 was upgraded to freeway.

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The US 6 freeway in Providence metro area was also part of the large I-84 expansion that never happened, and parts of the I-295/US 6 Fwy interchange have stubs (not all visible from the main route) for an expansion of the interchange that never became necessary. Once it picks up US 6A, it joins RI 10 briefly into town, and then both routes travel south for a quick jaunt on I-95.

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I-95/US 6 through downtown Providence, which is well signed and even has GAR shields up. Providence is the capital and largest city of Rhode Island with a population of 178,126 [2004 est.] and a metropolitan area of approximately 1,628,808 [2004 est.]. Named by founder and theologian Roger Williams (1603-1684) in 1636 for "God's Merciful Providence" in finding the future city's site to settle when he was expelled by the Massachusetts Pilgrims, it is noted for being the one of the first cities to industrialize in the United States and for many years had the largest and most productive factories in the nation and often the world. During the middle of the 20th century, however, Providence became notorious as a base of operations for organized crime and the city entered a slow decline. A push in the 1980s stressed cleanup, revitalization and reconstruction, particularly along the riverfront properties and railroads, the fruits of which have so far been only partially realized.

US 6 then branches off on I-195 for a hazardous spur towards Massachusetts (note the smoke cloud from off a car's tires squealing to avoid an accident; this is typical of these stretches of I-95 and I-195). There were no safe spots to take much photography along I-195 and so I didn't.

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Finally, US 6 will leave towards Seekonk and cross into Massachusetts at this state line whose only harbringer is a MILE 0 and STATE HIGHWAY BEGINS.

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This initial routing through Massachusetts is not very scenic except for Fall River and parts of New Bedford, mostly because it passes through otherwise undistinguished urban and suburban areas. For this reason, I was fairly lax with photography since everything looks pretty much like everything else until we get near to the Cape.

Massachusetts uses an apparently lazy but actually rather functional signage convention which you can see on the green signs at right. Often no shields appear at all, just a route number in large type and sometimes a directional arrow.

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Crossing the Taunton River into Fall River. Note that there is, and never apparently has been, a Fall River that's actually a river; it probably refers to the Quequechan River, a Wampanoag name believed to mean "falling water" after the falls that were once a visible landmark. Nowadays the Quequechan is a mere 2-mile stream into the Taunton that was diverted into pipes with the construction of I-195, obscuring the former falls and continuing the stream's marginalization (first during the 19th century in which it was run underground by cotton mills and, thus having been made underground, subsequently used as a sewer). The city is trying to recreate them today. Settled in 1670 and incorporated as Troy in 1812 (the new name came in 1834), the city has 91,938 residents [2000].

The Taunton River is named for Taunton, Massachusetts, which in turn was named for the town in Somerset, England from which most of the settlers hailed. It runs 44 miles, including to the south of Taunton, into Narrangansett Bay.

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Some of the US 6 signage here is somewhat old, particularly along this stretch of old expressway just past the Taunton River crossing.

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Entering New Bedford city. Note the end of state highway maintenance, which is only due to the township taking it over. We pick up tomorrow for our final leg.

Next: The end of US 6!

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22 July 2006: New Bedford, MA to Cape Cod National Seashore/End US 6
 


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