A BYPASS AROUND WESTERLY: During the mid-1950's, the Rhode Island Department of Public Works (RIDPW) proposed a four-lane upgrade of RI 3 (Ashaway Road / Main Street). The proposed north-south freeway was to connect US 1 with the newly completed "Relocated Route 3," which eventually became part of I-95. As planned, the original alignment had a more easterly alignment than the existing RI 78.
By 1959, the RIDPW had shifted the route for the Westerly Bypass to its current alignment. Beginning at US 1 (Post Road) near Westerly State Airport, the proposed 4.8-mile-long freeway was to form an arc to the north and east of downtown Westerly. It was to join I-95 across the Pawcatuck River in Stonington, Connecticut. Estimated to cost $4 million to build, the Westerly Bypass was originally scheduled for construction between 1961 and 1963. Although the RIDPW acquired right-of-way during this period, it did not have funds for construction because the state's Interstate highway construction program was well underway during this period.
In 1967, highway officials in Connecticut joined those in Rhode Island to build the expressway, which now was re-designated Route 78. The plan called for the extension of the Westerly Bypass across the Pawcatuck River to I-95, where the bypass was to become the CT 2 Expressway.
The proposed design called for building the expressway in the following stages:
In the first stage, a two-lane divided highway ("super 2") was to be built from CT 2 (Liberty Street) to a new continuous steel-girder bridge over the Pawcatuck River. Ramps were to be provided for a grade-separated interchange at CT 2.
In the second stage, a parallel span was to be constructed over the Pawcatuck River for the second carriageway. The four-lane expressway was to be extended west (north) of Liberty Street to a partial interchange with I-95 in Stonington. Initially, only two connections were to be provided at the interchange: from I-95 northbound to CT 78 eastbound, and from CT 78 westbound to I-95 southbound.
In a possible third stage, additional ramps were to be built at the I-95 / CT 78 interchange (what was to be EXIT 91A on I-95) for an eventual extension of the CT 2 Expressway northwest to Norwich. However, increasing unwillingness to fund road projects and dwindling state resources forced the state to withdraw the CT 2 Expressway (Norwich-Stonington) extension plans in 1971.
By the time construction began in Rhode Island in 1974, and in Connecticut one year later, the cost of the Westerly Bypass had risen to $12.8 million. However, the budget crises of the time scaled down the scope of the project. Instead of a four-lane freeway, Route 78 was built as a two-lane "super-2" freeway with no median separation. A grade separated interchange at US 1 in Westerly was deleted (there now is a signalized intersection at this location), as was the connection between CT 2 and I-95.
The two-lane Westerly Bypass opened to traffic in 1979. A high number of head-on collisions - some fatal - prompted the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to install a concrete "Jersey" barrier in the middle of the roadway to separate the one-lane, one-way traffic flows.
According to the RIDOT, Route 78 carries approximately 15,000 vehicles per day (AADT). There are no current plans to upgrade the existing bypass to a four-lane, median-separated freeway, although a wide right-of-way and already-built bridges can accommodate such as expansion easily.
RENAMING ROUTE 78 HONORS VETERANS: In 2002, the Westerly Town Council and the Rhode Island State Legislature adopted legislation to rename Route 78. The new name of the highway, "Veterans Way," was adopted as U.S. forces were shipped to Afghanistan after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and is named in honor of war veterans, police officers and firefighters. The Connecticut State Legislature adopted matching legislation in 2003. New signs were erected along Route 78 in April 2004.
PART OF AN EXTENDED I-495? During the 1960's, officials from New York State proposed a 55-mile-long extension of the Long Island Expressway from Riverhead, New York to Westerly, including a multi-span bridge across Long Island Sound. About five miles of new highway were to have been built between Napatree Point and the I-95 junction, part of which may have utilized the southerly portion of the Westerly Bypass before running parallel to RI 3. The highway and bridge never were formally added to the Federal-aid highway program, but both may have extended the I-495 designation from Long Island. The Orient Point-Watch Hill crossing was studied again in 1979, but by that time officials from New York State and Rhode Island no longer were interested in pursuing this proposal.
SOURCES: "Rhode Island Roads," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1956); "A Highway Program for Rhode Island," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1959); "Across the Sound" by Byron Porterfield, The New York Times (7/09/1961); "Proposed Long Island to Rhode Island Bridge," Suffolk County Planning Department (1961); "Construction of Route 78: Public Hearing," Connecticut Department of Transportation (1970); A Comprehensive Transportation Study for Proposed Bridge Crossings, Creighton, Hamburg, Incorporated (1971); Long Island Sound Bridge Study, New York State Department of Transportation (1979); "It's Official: Route 78 Now Is Called Veterans Way" by Chelsea Phua, The Providence Journal (4/27/2004); Shawn DeCesari; Michael Kendricks; Dan Moraseski; Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky.
RI 78 shield by Barry L. Camp. I-495 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.