This 2006 photo shows the eastbound Springfield Expressway (I-291) at EXIT 3 (Armory Street) in Springfield. A resurfacing project was nearing completion when this photo was taken. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
BYPASSING DOWNTOWN SPRINGFIELD TO POINTS EAST: The Springfield Expressway was conceived in 1953 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) as a bypass of US 20 connecting the proposed US 5 Expressway (now I-91) with the proposed Massachusetts Turnpike. The expressway was designed to divert traffic away from Carew Street (then US 20, now MA 20A) and other east-west streets through urbanized parts of Springfield.
Three years later, the Springfield Expressway became eligible for 90 percent Federal highway funding when it was included in the Interstate highway system. Soon thereafter, it received a new designation: I-291.
The route of the expressway in the 1953 plan coincided mostly with the current route, but there was one notable exception. Between EXIT 4 (St. James Avenue) and EXIT 5 (US 20 and MA 20A / Page Boulevard), I-291 curves gently in a southwest-to-northeast direction. The original plan had the route turn at closer to a right angle from the nearby Boston and Maine (Amtrak) railroad right-of-way onto Roosevelt Avenue. However, with industrial development spurred by the proposed I-291 well underway - including the new headquarters for Smith and Wesson - the Springfield Expressway eventually was shifted onto its current route.
Construction of the Springfield Expressway began in 1954 with the building of a four-lane bridge over the Chicopee River. The 1.4-mile-long, four-lane connection from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) south to EXIT 5 (US 20 and MA 20A) opened to traffic in 1957, the same year that the turnpike opened. Because of funding restrictions at the time, there was no direction connection between the toll Massachusetts Turnpike and the toll-free I-291. Instead, this connection was made at a three-way traffic light between I-291, the Massachusetts Turnpike toll plaza ramps, and Burnett Road, a connection that exists to this day.
With priorities in western Massachusetts focused on completing I-91 through the state, work did not resume on I-291 until 1967. This section begins at EXIT 5 with four lanes, but widens to six lanes at EXIT 4 and eight lanes at EXIT 3 (Armory Street). It was opened to traffic in 1970 to coincide with the completion of I-91 through downtown Springfield. At this time, the original section of I-291 built in the 1950's was repaved.
According to the Massachusetts Highway Department (MHD), I-291 carries approximately 50,000 vehicles per day (AADT). For much of its length, I-291 is co-signed with US 20. Over the years, it has served as not only a Springfield bypass, but also a connecting route for trucks from Springfield's industrial areas to the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-91.
In 2006, the MHD began an $11 million project to resurface I-291 and replace signs. This project is scheduled for completion in February 2007.
This 2004 photo shows the westbound Springfield Expressway (I-291) approaching its terminus at I-91 in downtown Springfield. Traffic heading for EXIT 2A (Chestnut Street) exits ahead from the two-lane ramp for EXIT 1A (I-91 SOUTH), while traffic bound for EXIT 2B (Dwight Street) exits ahead from the two-lane ramp for EXIT 1B (I-91 NORTH). (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
WIDEN TO SIX LANES, WITH AN UNINTERRUPTED CONNECTION TO THE MASS PIKE: The Springfield Expressway should be widened to six lanes from EXIT 4 (St. James Avenue) east to EXIT 7 (I-90 / Massachusetts Turnpike).
A new high-speed connection and toll plaza should be built to replace the existing 1950's-era interchange between I-291 and I-90 just east of the current interchange (EXIT 6 on the Massachusetts Turnpike). This may involve a new alignment for I-291 just east of the existing one. Connections also would be built from the new interchange to MA 141 (Worcester Street), Fuller Road, and Burnett Road.
SOURCES: "Master Highway Plan for the Springfield Metropolitan Area," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1953);"A Report of Progress," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1962); "The Massachusetts Highway Story (1949-1969)," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1969); "$10 Million Project Started on I-291," The Springfield Republican (6/14/2006); Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky; Dan Vincent.
I-291 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.