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Why Hartford's I-84 Viaduct Is a Futureless Freeway

I-84 Hartford Project

Hartford's Aetna Viaduct is among the top ten urban highways that deserve to be torn down, according to a new study by Congress for the New Urbanism. The yearly report, "Freeways without Futures" lists the elevated stretch of I-84 (in no particular order of futureless-ness) with such highways as I-10 in New Orleans, I-81 in Syracuse, and I-70 in St. Louis.

"By 2017 we believe we'll be ready to make the decision on what we want to do and when."
James Redeker

The criteria for being a futureless freeway?

  • age and design of structures
  • redevelopment potential
  • potential cost savings
  • ability to improve both overall mobility and local access
  • existence of pending infrastructure decisions
  • community support

About the viaduct, CNU says:

Completed in 1965, caused significant damage to the historic neighborhoods of Hartford, destroying historic architecture and breaking the walkable connections between adjacent communities and public spaces such as Asylum Hill and Frog Hill [Hollow?]. It also destroyed the economic vitality of the community. Downtown growth was inhibited for decades. To this day, the imposing viaduct prevents pedestrians from utilizing the space underneath, as most of the area is dedicated to surface parking.

The highway, which reached the end of its projected 40-year life span in 2005, is the most heavily trafficked in the state at 175,000 vehicles a day. The DOT says that's more than three times its originally intended capacity. (Ack!)

So, what now? DOT Commissioner James Redeker joinedWhere We Live in December to talk transportation issues, including the Hartford highway, which he said should not be called the Aetna Viaduct, but the I-84 Viaduct. 

Redeker said the city of Hartford has been engaging in community outreach programs to understand what might be best for its residents. There's anI-84 Viaduct Study (2010),  and anI-84 Hartford Project (ongoing). 

Some possibilities include lowering the highway, rebuilding city structures, and re-aligning the railroad. Changes could cost "maybe $3 billion," Redeker said, but could also save up to $1 billion.(Confused? Read the study.)


Considering that we're already almost 10 years past the viaduct expiration date, what's the timeline? After creating a preliminary design, and environmental work, Redeker said the DOT will have a decision by 2017.

It'll be a decision that gets the DOT ready to make another decision: "Which way do we go?" Redeker said. "What design works? When do we need to get it done? How do we pay for it? And what is the type of mechanism we want to do to deliver that project? ... By 2017 we believe we'll be ready to make the decision on what we want to do and when."

Catie Talarski is Senior Director of Storytelling and Radio Programming at Connecticut Public.

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