1930's WPA CONSTRUCTION BOOM:
In the so called "alphabet days" of the 1930s, massive mounts of Federal money became available to cities, counties, and states. Most of this money was funneled through agencies such as the WPA, the ERA, and the CWA. Under these programs numerous improvements of US-5 were begun. Please see the section on 1930-39 construction projects. See MAP 22 and MAP 23
INTERREGIONAL AND INTERSTATE HIGHWAYS:
On the national front it was clear that by the early 40s many sections of the old US highway system were obsolete. These highways, just 10-15 years old, were not designed the growing amount of traffic or increased vehicle speeds of the time. The new Pennsylvania Turnpike had already set a new, higher standard in creating the nation's first limited access, "all weather highway". It was a project made easier by the purchase of a defunct Railroad right-of-way that crossed most of the state. This right-of-way included many never used railroad tunnels through the Appalachian Mountains.
To upgrade the existing US highway system a new Interregional Highway System was proposed in 1944. The new Interregional designation would cover about 34,000 miles, about one-third the number of road miles of the older US system. These critical routes were prioritized for badly needed improvements. US-5 was one such highway to be designated as an Interregional route. Under this proposal US-5 was to become a four-lane highway from New Haven all the way to Greenfield. Projected traffic flow further north than Greenfield did not warrant further highway improvements.
But, Congress as such did not approve the Interregional Highway System plan. Its full acceptance was first stalled because of World War II. When the topic of improving the nation's highways was taken up again after the war, some in Congress wanted to go a step further. In 1946 Congress approved the planning of, but not the funding for, 40,000 miles of next generation highways: the US Interstate Highway system.
Despite its ambitious level of planning, actual federal aid for highways improvements and construction fell behind the growing needs of highway users. By the early 50s, many states finally opted to just finance the needed new generation highways on their own while still using existing federal aid to improve the network of older US Highways. In was in 1952 the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was formed.
1953 DPW MASTER HIGHWAY PLAN:
In 1953 the Massachusetts Department of Public Works published a study called "The Master Highway Plan for the Springfield Metropolitan Area". It proposed a series major of US Highway bypasses for several cities in the Springfield metropolitan area. Once each town, and especially the business community, fought to be on a numbered highway. They believed the increase in traffic as crucial to their economic survival, as towns a century before fought to be on a rail line. But, by the early 50s it was clear that the immense volume of interstate through traffic traveling these old US highways could no longer be funneled into the overcrowded hearts of cities like Springfield, West Springfield and Holyoke. Also, the extensive business and residential development along some sections of these existing highways made it impossible to ever convert them into what was now desperately needed: limited access expressways. The authors of this Master Plan had to know of the debate in the Massachusetts legislature on the creation of the Turnpike Authority. None the less, they seemingly had to work within the context of the existing US highway system. They did not foresee the final passage of funding for the US Interstate Highway system in 1956. Much of what the DPW Master Plan proposed was never built... as such. This is not to say the virtues of the proposed bypass routes were lost. One recommendation called for a complete relocation of US-5 around the West Springfield's Riverdale section and most of Holyoke. It would begin near West Springfield's Morgan Road and eventually rejoin the older section of US-5 by today's Mt.Tom Ski Area. Today's I-91 follows much of this proposed route.
Some of the highway improvements the Master Plan called for were in fact constructed. The plan called for a new bridge between Holyoke and South Hadley. That became the Muller Bridge.
Interestingly, other highways also have their roots in this 1953 DPW Master Plan. The DPW had proposed a complete relocation of US-20 between Palmer and West Springfield, maybe as far west as Westfield. The new relocated highway would run through Ludlow and Chicopee, where a new bridge would be built across the Connecticut River to West Springfield. This is the exact route the Turnpike was constructed on just a few years later. The only difference was the US-20 bypass plan would have created a more flexible highway than the revenue conscious Turnpike could ever allow. The US-20 project was designed to efficiently move traffic and thus called for more access points. The Turnpike, on the other hand, had very restricted access. Exits were not built unless they could generate more revenue than they cost to run. Thus, a 24-mile stretch through the Berkshires could be justified even if people in that area went unserved. Others contend given the Turnpike's priorities, that neither the public nor business could take full advantage of this new highway.
The Master Plan also called for the construction of a new road called the Springfield Expressway. It would connect downtown Springfield to the new US-20 in Chicopee. I-291 eventually was built on this route.
There also was another 1957 DPW plan, obviously never fully implemented, that called for US-5 to bypass Longmeadow and Bernardston. These completely new sections of highway would connect with the Interstate routes coming up from Connecticut and down from Vermont. Eventually, those sections of highways were built as I-91. US-5 itself was never relocated to any section of these new layouts.
"US-5: A Highway to History" © Robb Strycharz, 1996-2006
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