Sunday, May 1, 2022

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Story of Mid-Cape Highway Exit 6 1/2

    Cape Cod in the summer can be a slog when it comes to travel. Even on the most picture-perfect days weather-wise the man roads of Rt. 28, Rt. 132, and especially Rt. 6, can be choked with vehicles all looking to visit the same locations.

    In the current era where GPS is common even the side-roads that used to take locals away from the crowds are not of as much use. What can be done to alleviate the traffic jams? Unfortunately not much. Route 28, Route 132, and the like are set in stone. As far as Route 6 goes, it’s not as if new exits can just be created to break up traffic jams. Or can they?

    For decades the idea to do just that was a major talking point in the Mid-Cape area. The ultimate goal of developing a new exit along the highway has come close to fruition several times. Though not currently in existence it is not far from the minds of those longtime Cape Codders who look for ways to avoid the crush of summer traffic. This is the story of the elusive Exit 6 ½.

What Exit 6 1/2 could have looked like.

    The story of Exit 6 ½ is intertwined with the history of Hyannis’ Independence Park. Located in between Rt. 132 and Mary Dunn Road, the industrial park was originally 680-acres of highly sought after land. It began its life as Parkland Properties owned by Paul Lorusso in the early 1960’s.

    Lorusso, who had risen to prominence on Cape Cod in the 1950’s by creating affordable housing for World War II veterans, had to battle for a decade to get Parkland Properties to officially open as Independence Park in 1975. The first official tenant of the property was Marken Brothers grocers wholesale outlet.

    More and more businesses opened up in, or moved to, Independence Park. Being somewhat quieter nearly a half century ago it was only natural that Lorusso would look for ways to increase vehicle traffic through the enormous industrial park. This is where Exit 6 ½ first comes to life.

    The first idea Lorusso had to bring more eyes to Independence Park was via extending Old Townhouse Road in West Yarmouth. In 1975 the road ended at an intersection with West Yarmouth Road. Lorusso had the thought to extend Old Townhouse Road west nearly three miles. It would intersect Higgins Crowell Road and ultimately end up connecting to Mary Dunn Road which abutted Independence Park. In an attempt to push the project through Lorusso even offered to have his company foot the bill for the road extension. This would have cost Lorusso an estimated $800,000($4.27 million in 2022).

    In early 1979 local newspapers ran stories about ways to alleviate the increasing traffic in and around the Mid-Cape. In addition to mentioning the extension of Old Townhouse Road again the story mentioned the creation of a new highway interchange between Exits 6 and 7 on the Mid-Cape Highway. Preliminary specs called for the so-called ‘Exit 6 ½’ to be constructed at the Mary Dunn Road overpass.

    Paul Lorusso was a big proponent of the new interchange as it would shepherd vehicles right through Independence Park. The fact that it was being mentioned as being mostly state and federally funded made it an even better idea. Concrete plans for a new exit went slowly with potential water quality issues around the interchange becoming a major sticking point.

    In 1981 the Old Townhouse Road rumor sparked back up. When nothing came from it this time it was shelved. A few years later it was decided to use the open space to create the Bayberry Hills Golf Course which opened in 1986.

    A study in 1983 showed there were an average of 30,000 vehicles per day in the summer passing in the vicinity of the Barnstable Airport. The data was there that something was needed to give at least a little relief to the traffic. Momentum seemed to be rising when in 1984 rumors started to swirl of plans to build a new hospital in Hyannis. This was seen as a perfect fit for Independence Park. The addition of the hospital on the grounds could make the creation of Exit 6 ½ a little easier. At the time at least one person interviewed in the newspaper felt confident that at least one next exit would be created for the Mid-Cape Highway within the coming decade.

    None of those plans came to fruition and the chatter about Exit 6 ½ quieted down. It bubbled back up in 1992 this time with an idea to remove the Airport Rotary as well. Then-Massachusetts State Representative John Klimm wished to have plans for the maligned highway interchange drawn up to potentially be included in a major state transportation bond bill in 1993. In August 1993 the Barnstable Town Council finally endorsed the creation of Exit 6 ½. A major hurdle had been crossed.

    It was rumored that even with state funding that taking the interchange from planning to finished product could take as long as ten years. The rejection of a proposed Sam’s Club store in Independence Park in February 1994 was an ominous sign for Exit 6 ½. Despite that one million dollars was set aside in the state transportation bond bill for design studies and environmental impact studies surrounding the proposed new highway exit.

The Exit 6 1/2 plans from 1998(Barnstable Patriot Archives)

    Plans changed when in June 1994 the state purchased 357 acres of undeveloped land that was part of Independence Park via eminent domain for $5.2 million. This land was to be protected and threw a huge monkey wrench into where a potential Exit 6 ½ could realistically be built.

    A feasibility study was conducted in 1995 and public support was sought. Besides the potential environmental concerns those who lived along Mary Dunn Road and the surrounding neighborhoods felt the new interchange would add traffic to their relatively rural area. Talks would heat up and cool down over the next several years. Alternative locations for the exit were discussed as well as other ways to alleviate the thick traffic along Rt. 132.

    Finally in March 1998 an official design for Exit 6 ½ was approved by the Massachusetts Highway Department. It was all systems go. Or so it seemed. Years passed and no movement was made on Exit 6 ½. It remained stalled in the planning stages. By 2002 focus had shifted to widening Rt. 132 and talk of Exit 6 ½ slowly faded away.

    Twenty years after talk of Exit 6 ½ faded into the background traffic in Hyannis, and on Cape Cod in general, in the summer has only increased. In a report from the Cape Cod Commission, in 2018 the total number of vehicles crossing the Bourne and Sagamore bridges on an average day was 131,583. With traffic woes as prevalent as ever perhaps the talk of a potential Exit 6 ½ will bubble to the surface again sometime in the near future.


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