Oak Street Connector
||It has been suggested that this article be merged into Connecticut Route 34. (Discuss) Proposed since May 2013.|
|Richard C. Lee Highway|
Map of New Haven County in southern Connecticut with Oak Street Connector highlighted in red
|Maintained by ConnDOT|
|Length:||1.13 mi (1.82 km)|
|East end:||I‑91 / I‑95 in New Haven|
|West end:||York Street in New Haven|
The Oak Street Connector, officially known as the Richard C. Lee Highway, is a 1.1-mile-long (1.8 km) freeway section of Route 34 that is located in downtown New Haven, Connecticut. The freeway begins at the junction of Interstate 95 and Interstate 91 and ends at York Street/the Air Rights parking garage.
As originally planned in 1957, the Connector was supposed to extend as a full expressway extending ten miles (16 km) westward from New Haven to the town of Derby, where it would intersect with Route 8. The current connector section was completed in 1959. The entire project was conceived with a dual purpose: urban renewal and traffic flow. The first goal was to completely clear this area of New Haven's downtown. The highway replaced Oak Street (formerly Morocco Street) which had been a poor area since the days when leather workers congregated along West Creek. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the area became home to many Jewish and Irish immigrants. The freeway was also meant to bring cars into the city and facilitate the east–west flow of traffic between New Haven and its growing western suburbs. Due to its limited completion, only the first goal can be said to have been fully achieved. Other plans for the highway to be extended into a larger expressway from New Haven to Peekskill, New York were shelved in the mid-1970s, following successful challenges by highway opponents. The right-of-way between Legion Avenue and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (originally North Frontage Road) in New Haven to Route 10 was preserved for a future extension of the connector past Route 10 to rejoin the existing Route 34 near Route 122 in Orange. A small portion of the planned freeway extension that was built in Orange during the 1980s is now used as a commuter parking lot.
"Downgrading" the Oak Street Connector
During Connecticut's budget crisis of 2002, the State of Connecticut sold off land acquired for numerous planned expressways throughout the state, including land set aside for extending the Oak Street Connector. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals purchased a portion of the Oak Street Connector right-of-way, and built a US$35 million research facility. The Pfizer deal ensured the Oak Street Connector could not be extended beyond its current terminus at the Air Rights Parking Garage near Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Following the completion of the Pfizer research facility in 2005, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. and several leaders of local civic groups began pushing the Connecticut Department of Transportation to study removing the existing Oak Street Connector and replace it with a four-lane landscaped boulevard with access to local streets and businesses. The boulevard would encompass the existing Oak Street Connector from the bridge that carries the Route 34 freeway over the New Haven Railyard westward to the connector's western terminus at the air rights garage; the freeway portion from the New Haven Railyard bridge eastward to the I-95/I-91 interchange would remain as a freeway stub that transitions to the new boulevard at the west end of the railyard bridge. The boulevard would then continue west along a widened Legion Avenue (South Frontage Road). After the completion of the boulevard, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (North Frontage Road), which carries the westbound lanes of Route 34, would be returned to the City of New Haven. While this would be a separate project from the reconstruction of the nearby I-91/I-95 interchange, it has been gaining increasing popular support among residents, business-owners and city officials in New Haven.
CONNDOT and the City of New Haven began preparing the environmental impact statement for removing the Oak Street Connector in 2011, and the first phase of the project began in May 2013.
One factor which would argue against demolition of the expressway is that it serves as the primary access route for ambulances to reach Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of St. Raphael from the interstate highways, thus removal would degrade service available to suburban patients and victims of motor vehicle accidents.
Currently, the Connecticut Department of Transportation is engaged in a redesign of the entire Interstate 95/91/Oak Street Connector interchange. It is estimated that the Connector handles 73,900 vehicles each day.