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The Road Through the Meadows

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Cover of 1960 Annual Report, Town of Longmeadow, Massachusetts

Until the late 1950’s, most vehicles traveling north and south along the Connecticut River rode on U.S. Route 5. On its path from New Haven, CT to the Canadian border, Route 5 passed through cities and towns in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. In Longmeadow, it traveled the full length of Longmeadow Street. Route 5 was a very busy road and it kept getting busier. Along Longmeadow Street, traffic counts numbered between 15,000 and 25,000 cars and trucks per day. Alarmed by the uptick in traffic, government officials in Connecticut and Massachusetts created a plan to move Route 5 out of town centers by building a limited access highway from Hartford to Springfield. The new Route 5 highway was designed to accommodate up to 25,000 vehicles per day as it passed through Longmeadow. While Connecticut proceeded to build its portion of the new roadway, Massachusetts was a bit slower to do so. Longmeadow Selectmen voiced their concerns to the state on many occasions. At a 1953 meeting, Selectmen “registered our unanimous deep concern for the safety of our inhabitants, if the proposed Connecticut State Expressway, which will be limited access, should funnel its high speed traffic through Longmeadow Street on its way to Springfield, Massachusetts.” Nevertheless, the Selectmen persisted, advocating for the expressway until they achieved success. The 1955 Longmeadow Annual Report stated that, “The failure of the State Legislature to approve the state bond issue in 1955 delayed the construction and relocation of Route 5 through Longmeadow. Commissioner Volpe has assured us that the engineering necessary for the project is almost complete and with favorable action by the new session of the Legislature we look forward to the start of construction in 1956. The ever increasing traffic on Longmeadow Street has kept your Selectmen constantly in touch with the State Department of Public Works, by letter and conference, to accelerate this project.” Placement of the Roadway As plans developed, there were discussions about where to put the roadway. Several different locations in the Longmeadow meadows were considered. One location, west of the existing New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad tracks, was popular with many Longmeadow residents and they traveled to Boston to advocate for this location. However, the Commonwealth Department of Public Works and the federal government rejected their request, citing the enormous costs needed to secure and elevate the roadway above the floodplain in that area.

Relocation of Route 5 in Longmeadow, Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

Department of Public Works, Sept. 20, 1956. Page 1.

Courtesy of the Town of Longmeadow Planning Board.

Relocation of Route 5 in Longmeadow, Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

Department of Public Works, Sept. 20, 1956. Page 2.

Courtesy of the Town of Longmeadow Planning Board.

Instead, the Department of Public Works decided to place the expressway east of the tracks and on August 27, 1956 the Town of Longmeadow Planning Board approved the Commonwealth’s plan. In 1957, the expressway was renamed. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in June, 1956, providing federal funding for a new nationwide system of interstate limited-access highways. By February 1957, the planned expressway along the Connecticut River had been incorporated into the new system. It was now designated as Interstate 91. Route 5 was to remain where it was – on Longmeadow Street. The land slated to hold the new highway was, not surprisingly, already owned. By eminent domain, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Works acquired thirteen parcels of land on September 20, 1958.

Construction of the Roadway

Two construction firms built the road. Lane Construction Corp. of Meriden, CT. was awarded the contract to build the Route 5 expressway from Enfield, CT to north of Emerson Road and Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, Inc. of Holyoke was contracted to build the expressway from north of Emerson Road to Longhill Street in Springfield.

The Longmeadow section of I-91 was completed in 1959 but it was not opened for traffic until November 5, 1960. This was a month after Connecticut had extended its portion of the highway from Hartford to Longmeadow. Officials held a large celebration event and vehicles travelled the road for the first time. Police saw a noticeable drop in traffic on Route 5 immediately afterwards.

Springfield Union, Nov. 4, 1960

Impact of Interstate 91 Today, Longmeadow residents rarely think about Interstate 91. Though it passes through our town, one cannot access the expressway in Longmeadow – northbound travelers access the roadway in Springfield and southbound travelers access it in Enfield, CT. Nevertheless, the interstate still significantly impacts Longmeadow today.

  • Longmeadow has fewer ways to access the Connecticut River shoreline. Connection to the river has always been important to the peoples who have lived on Longmeadow lands. For thousands of years, the Agawam people lived on both sides of the river and they fished in it and used canoes to travel along it. The first English settlers in Longmeadow were deeded lands along the banks of the Connecticut River; like their predecessors, they relied on the river for transportation and for fishing. Residents today mainly use the river for recreational purposes. The 1946 map of Longmeadow shows that five roads (Field Road, Emerson Road, Birnie Road, Bark Haul Road, and Meadow Road) crossed the tracks, allowing vehicles to get to the banks of the river. Today, only two roads, Emerson Road and Bark Haul Road, will take you west of the expressway.

U.S. Dept. of the Interior Geological Survey, Springfield South Mass.-Conn. Edition of 1946. Courtesy of the Town of Longmeadow Planning Board.

  • The topography of other portions of Longmeadow changed when soil from undeveloped land was trucked to the interstate to be used as fill. The roadway is elevated from the meadow flatlands to protect it from possible flooding. The expressway was built to a minimum elevation 70, which is 14 feet above the railroad tracks (elevation 56), and fill was needed to raise it to elevation 70. The Longmeadow Planning Board reported in the 1958 Annual Report that it “gave approval to 13 Topographical Plans showing proposed fill removals within the Town, all of which was to be used only for the construction of the re-location of Route 5 (new Route 91) within the Town.” According to a 1959 article, “Lane’s contract entailed massive amounts of fill to raise the roadbed high above the level of the surrounding Longmeadow flatlands.” Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, Inc., which built the Longmeadow Curve part of the expressway, was required to bring in over 330,000 cubic yards of new fill.

  • Longmeadow Street is spared the huge volume of through-traffic which travels on Interstate 91. Pre-Covid traffic counts showed that ~74,529 vehicles/day (2012 study) traveled on the Longmeadow section of Interstate 91 – tripling the original road capacity of 25,000 vehicles. In addition, a 2009 traffic study showed that ~22,786 vehicles/day traveled through the intersection at the north end of Longmeadow Street. These numbers combine to close to a 100,000 vehicles. Most of us have witnessed the bumper-to-bumper traffic which extends the length of Longmeadow Street when an accident on I-91 diverts traffic to Route 5. Imagine that going both directions throughout the day. Yikes!

In 1960, Interstate 91 ended in Springfield at a Longhill Street interchange just below the South End Bridge. There was much debate in Springfield about where to locate the expressway and construction of I-91 through Springfield was not completed until 1970. The expressway’s impact on Springfield has been dramatic, cutting through long-established communities, relocating businesses, and limiting potential revitalization activities along the Connecticut River. Contributed by Beth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member

Originally published September 22, 2022 Resources: Bianca Damiano, Recorder, Planning Board & ZBA Springfield Union: Feb. 12, 1958; Feb. 14, 1958; Oct. 21, 1958; Aug. 1, 1959; Nov. 1, 1960; Nov. 4, 1960; Nov. 5, 1960; Nov. 7, 1960 1955 Longmeadow Annual Report 1958 Longmeadow Annual Report 1960 Longmeadow Annual Report Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Interstate Route I-91 Corridor Planning Study Springfield, Massachusetts: Interchanges 1 through 5. Existing Conditions Report, July 2015 MassDOT, Interstate 91 Viaduct Study Springfield, Massachusetts, August 2018 WGBY, Connecting Point, “Events That Rocked the Region: The Construction of Interstate 91” May 14, 2018

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