MAJOR US-5 HIGHWAY PROJECTS 1899-2004:
The following is a list of road alteration and relocation projects that transformed the old patchwork of town and county roads first into a MHC highway, then into today's US-5. The list is primarily a compilation of MHC/DPW projects, not those carried out by towns. The state typically would get involved only on sections of highway between city centers. This rule may not apply to smaller towns. Space does not permit a listing of each project. Initially, the MHC rarely funded projects more than one or two miles in length.
As for where these projects actually took place, MHC/DPW annual reports can be confusing to interpret since various reporting formats were used. For example, a town may have had several MHC projects going on simultaneously yet actual road names are rarely mentioned. Little information is provided past references to town lines, baseline points, other layouts, and compass directions. Around 1912 the MHC began to supplement its charts with some narrative. Actual layout maps, when they can be found, are always preferable to MHC reports. The most comprehensive library of highway layouts is at the Massachusetts Highway (DPW) Region II office in Northampton. One caveat: typically, when a section of state highway is turned over to a town, the layout maps are also transferred. However, old highway layout plans could not be located for Longmeadow. Progress in that town is taken from MHC and town reports.
Attempting to make sense of annual Highway Department reports for individual towns can also be difficult. Often, reference points may be given but have long been out of use. Even one local historian did not know that names such as "Old Bed" referred to today's Oxbow.
Unless stated otherwise the dates given are from layout plans and actual work occurred some time after that time. How much later depended on the priority the MHC/DPW gave the project. Some work might not be funded for several years after a plan was submitted. One plan submitted by Longmeadow in 1897 was not approved until 1912! How long actual construction might last and when a road might finally be open to the public are questions not answered here.
Broadly speaking there are three types of highway projects. A reconstruction may be nothing more than repaving or improving drainage. An alteration is a change in a road's sidelines. This can occur because the road is widened or a curve is slightly straightened. A relocation is the physical rerouting of a road along a new layout. The expense of doing an actual relocation is only justified for several reasons: eliminating dangerous rail crossings or steep grades, to straighten a highway by cutting across a curve, or to bypass town centers. As sections of the highway we now call US-5 were altered and relocated, its new layouts strayed further and further from the earlier roads US-5 was built upon.
US-5 and I-91's story is in large part tied to the old north/south New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H RR) that ran from Northampton to Greenfield. (See Map20 ) The line was abandoned in the 1920s and should not be confused with the current railroad that runs parallel to US-5. The takeover by the state of this old right-of-way accounts for the curiously straight paths I-91 follows in Hatfield and Whately, and that of the US-5 bypass of South Deerfield center. Several other early US-5 relocation projects were meant to eliminate dangerous NYNH&H RR overpasses on this route.
Please also keep in mind that even though the Smith Ferry area of Holyoke was part of Northampton until it was annexed in 1909, for purposes of this review it is listed as Holyoke. As to why a piece of one town could be annexed... Smiths Ferry was in the unenviable position of not only being separated from the rest of Northampton by a thin slice of Easthampton, but that the shortest road to Northampton was the unreliable road through the Oxbow. By mutual consent, and with the prodding of many Smiths Ferry residents, the state approved the annexation by Holyoke. Therefore, roadwork done in Smiths Ferry prior to 1909 was technically done in cooperation with the town of Northampton.
"US-5: A Highway to History" © Robb Strycharz, 1996-2006
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