This 2001 photo shows the westbound Dennis J. Roberts Expressway (US 6) at the left-hand exit for RI 14 (Plainfield Street) in Providence. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

AN EXPRESS ROUTE TO PROVIDENCE'S WESTERN SUBURBS: In 1945, the Rhode Island Department of Public Works (RIDPW) devised plans for an expressway network to meet postwar traffic demands in metropolitan Providence. The initial network comprised of today's I-95 and I-195, but had a provision for a future east-west expressway extending west from downtown Providence (terminating at a "Y"-interchange).

Work began on the Olneyville Expressway spur from the Huntington Expressway (RI 10) in 1950, upon approval of a $20 million bond issue for various road improvements around the state. The first section of expressway, from the Huntington Expressway west to the Plainfield Street (RI 14) exit, opened to traffic in 1953. Upon its opening, the half-mile-long Olneyville Expressway was renamed the "Dennis J. Roberts Expressway" after the governor who spearheaded the state's expressway program in its early days.

During the late 1950's, the state mapped out a proposed expressway extending west from Providence to the Rhode Island-Connecticut border. Both Rhode Island and Connecticut submitted the proposed US 6 Expressway to the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) for submission in the Interstate highway system, but the Federal government rejected the proposal.

Nevertheless, Rhode Island officials pressed ahead with the proposed route. The state scheduled construction of the expressway from RI 14 in Providence to the proposed I-295 in Johnston. The $5.5 million extension was originally scheduled for completion in 1963. However, with attention focused on completing I-95 and I-195, the state postponed work on the Dennis J. Roberts Expressway.

AN EYE TOWARD POTENTIAL INTERSTATE DESIGNATION: In 1968, work resumed on a 3.4-mile-long section of expressway from RI 14 west to I-295. Construction of what became known as "Section V" was done in advance of what Rhode Island officials hoped would be an Interstate highway connection to Hartford. The six-lane highway was constructed to Interstate standards, but has a lower design speed due to its substandard curves. By the late 1960's, the cost of the highway had increased to $8 million.

The Dennis J. Roberts Expressway was opened to traffic in 1971. Upon completion, the expressway received a temporary designation of RI 195; state officials had hoped it would be changed to I-84 sometime before the end of the 1970's. The designation on the expressway was changed to US 6 in 1991, some years after the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) canceled the Hartford-to-Providence section of I-84.

According to the RIDOT, the Dennis J. Roberts Expressway carries approximately 50,000 vehicles per day (AADT).

CHANGES FOR THE OLNEYVILLE INTERCHANGE: The initial section of the Huntington Expressway in the area of the Olneyville interchange with US 6 (Dennis J. Roberts Expressway) was determined by the RIDOT to be in dire need of replacement. In addition to its substandard design attributes, the modified "trumpet" interchange lacked a ramp from RI 10 northbound to US 6 westbound. A series of minor bridge rehabilitation and repaving projects between 1997 and 2004 were carried out by the RIDOT as interim measures.

The RIDOT is developing long-range plans to rebuild this interchange. Under the state's "reconstruction alternative" (Alternative 4), a fully directional "T-interchange" would be built on the site. The left exit from westbound US 6 to RI 14 (Plainfield Street) also would be eliminated. The RIDOT selected this alternative in its final record of decision presented in 2006, but is likely to delay the start of work until major completion of the I-95 / I-195 interchange in 2010.

This 2001 photo shows the westbound Dennis J. Roberts Expressway (US 6) at the exit for US 6A (Hartford Avenue) in Johnston. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

THE PROVIDENCE-TO-HARTFORD INTERSTATE: In 1944, the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut drafted a preliminary map of routes to be included in the proposed National System of Interstate and Defense highways. When President Eisenhower signed the 41,000-mile national network into law in 1956, the US 6 Expressway from East Hartford to Providence did not make the cut.

Officials from the two states received a second chance in October 1968, when the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) added 1,500 miles to the national Interstate highway network. In the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, the BPR granted an Interstate route between I-84 in East Hartford and I-95 in Providence in the "Proposed Interstate System Adjustment" report. The 65 miles of new highway were estimated to cost $160 million.

The new route, which was to parallel US 6 and US 44, was originally designated I-82. Shortly thereafter, the Hartford-to-Providence highway was re-designated I-84. (The existing I-84 from Hartford to Massachusetts was re-designated I-86.)

The four-lane Interstate, which was to continue west of I-295 through the towns of Johnston, Scituate and Foster, was to carry approximately 40,000 vehicles per day (AADT). Interchanges were to be constructed at the following locations:

  • Cucumber Hill Road, Foster
  • RI 94, Foster
  • RI 102, Scituate
  • RI 101, Scituate
  • RI 116, Scituate
  • I-295, Johnston

Between RI 102 and RI 116 in Scituate, the proposed I-84 was to utilize the existing US 6 right-of-way. This was to be done to minimize the impact to Scituate Reservoir, through which the Interstate was to be routed. The proposed I-84 was to continue east of I-295 along the Dennis J. Roberts Expressway (US 6) and the Huntington Expressway (RI 10 and US 6) to connect to I-95 in downtown Providence.

The new I-84 even had its own spur: I-184 was to be designated along the Huntington Expressway (RI 10) from US 6 (to be re-designated I-84) south to RI 12 in Cranston.

PROBLEMS AT SCITUATE RESERVOIR: In 1975, the RIDOT submitted its final environmental impact statement to the Federal government. The report's recommendation to build I-84 through Scituate Reservoir generated significant controversy, particularly from the Council on Environmental Quality. The environmental group recommended that I-84 not be built through the area, and subsequently issued the following statement:

All roads now in operation through the watershed, especially those crossing the reservoir or its satellite, currently endanger the water supply and do not have adequate safeguards to protect the water supply. To improve protection in the reservoir system and watershed, the existing roads need - in critical sections - retrofitting with improved physical constraints and methods to capture and export road runoff fluids from the watershed.

In 1979, the US Department of Transportation came to the following decisions:

  • The Rhode Island section of I-84 was not approved. The Federal government required that the RIDOT develop a new environmental impact statement.

  • The remaining Connecticut sections of I-84 from Bolton east to CT 52 (now I-395) were conditionally approved, subject to the approval of the Rhode Island route.

Two years later, the RIDOT began new studies to address alternative routings for I-84, including an extension of the Lincoln Expressway (RI 37) west from I-295 in Cranston. This route also met with opposition from groups such as "Stop I-84."

The RIDOT abandoned further study of an I-84 route to Providence after finding that there was no suitable alternative to the previously recommended route in the area of the Scituate Reservoir. It officially canceled its portion of I-84 on May 5, 1982. In November 1983, ConnDOT traded in the Interstate highway mileage for the proposed I-84 east of Bolton.

During the mid-1980's, the RIDOT developed plans to expand the existing US 6 from two to four lanes. However, even this proposal ran into controversy.

REVIVING HIGHWAY PLANS? In its 1992 long-range transportation plan, the RIDOT resurrected the idea of building a freeway from the end of the Dennis J. Roberts Expressway (US 6) in Johnston west to the Rhode Island-Connecticut, with the intention of eventually providing a controlled-access link west to Hartford. The state appeared to have changed its mind from its earlier decision, and now believes that an expressway could be built without doing harm to the Scituate watershed. The growing number of accidents on the existing two-lane US 6 through Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut may compel officials to pursue this proposal.

This 2001 photo shows the westbound Dennis J. Roberts Expressway (US 6) at the partially I-295 interchange in Johnston. Closed-off concrete ramps and stubs reveal plans to extend the expressway west as I-84 into Connecticut. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

THE NEW I-82: The Dennis J. Roberts Expressway should be extended west of I-295 to the Rhode Island-Connecticut border, and eventually west to the eastern terminus of I-384 in Bolton, Connecticut. Upon completion of this highway, the new route should be designated I-82. The new I-82 would continue east along the Dennis J. Roberts Expressway and the Huntington Expressway ("6-10 Connector") to downtown Providence.

SOURCES: "Rhode Island Roads," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1956); "A Highway Program for Rhode Island," Rhode Island Department of Public Works (1959); "Proposed Interstate System Adjustment," Rhode Island Department of Public Works and Connecticut Highway Department (1968); "Interstate 84: Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Rhode Island Department of Transportation (1972); "Progress of I-84 Link Up to Court" by Robert R. Landers, The New York Times (10/26/1980); "Connecticut Drops Plan To Extend I-84 to the Border" by Richard L. Madden The New York Times (8/23/1983); "US 6: Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Rhode Island Department of Transportation (1985); "Interim Ground Transportation Plan: 2010," Rhode Island Department of Transportation (1992); "Route 6-10 Interchange," Rhode Island Department of Transportation (2006); Shawn DeCesari; Michael Kendricks; Dan Moraseski; Scott Oglesby; Chris O'Leary; Stephen Summers; Alexander Svirsky.

  • US 6, RI 195, I-84, and I-82 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.




  • US 6 (Rhode Island) exit lists (eastbound and westbound) by Steve Anderson.


  • Dennis J. Roberts Expressway (US 6)

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